10,000 Hours Theory

The greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, musicians & scientists emerge only after spending at least three hours a day for a decade mastering their chosen field.

With this in mind how many hours per day do you / your child / your players practice?  As a coach I have always said that we don't have enough contact time with our players.  At the same time many players don't have the same discipline or hunger to practice as we did when we were young.

People blame computer games that has put a stop to street football but if truth be told Council's have a lot to answer too

Sir Bobby Charlton always said that England won the 1966 World Cup through growing up & playing street football.  Where has street football went to?  When is the last time you have seen or allowed your children to play football out in the street?

Some of the factors that have caused street football to disappear include;

  • Increased traffic on our roads
  • Stranger danger
  • No ball game signs
  • Adult involvement

As a child growing up on the streets of Belfast we used to play football all day.  In fact back then the only adult involvement was when your mum called you in for dinner!  Nowadays people blame computer games & the internet as a factor to kids not playing outside.  Perhaps it is a factor but I had the Spectrum 48k in my day & Dizzy was a great game but I still preferred to play football outside!

I think Council's should take some of the blame.  Take the photo above for example.  I have a lovely green out the front of my house - great for my kids to play but look at the sign at the end of the green!  Bloody hell, what would you rather kids do, throw bricks through peoples windows!  Even going to my local football pitches for a kick about I've been constantly bothered by the smoking Council worker.  'You can't play here, you're trespassing.  I'll phone the police.'  You can just hear the police now, 'We have a report of 2 people trespassing, they are playing football on a football pitch'!  You just can't buy it.

So with the option of playing on the green in front of our house out for children & the option of going to the local pitches ruled out where do children get the opportunity to play outside their clubs?

As Academy Director at Lisburn Distillery I had the elite squads train twice a week along with their game.  I also encouraged them to come along to my community programme.  This would offer them approximately 5 hours of practice time per week.  I wasn't happy with this & wanted more contact time with them.  What I put forward to the club was another weekly training session & also for the boys to attend a martial arts class on a weekly basis.  But welcome to Northern Ireland, the answer was NO!  Why?  Too expensive to hire another venue, pay coaches & they simply laughed at the martial arts idea.  In fact they wanted to cut the training down to only once weekly to save money!

This is a massive problem.  Clubs know the importance of a youth set up but the way clubs implement it they shouldn't even bother.  Training only once a week with parents as the coaches you will see the education programme & players suffer as a result.  But it is not just the clubs, parents need educated as well.

As a parent we look at a number of factors before deciding what school our children go to.   A school that will provide a good education, develop our child in a healthy environment with good facilities & a good curriculum.  So why do we not do the same with our child's football club?!

In Northern Ireland parents think when their child is at a 'big club' that is it.  They train once a week, maybe twice & play a match.  They receive 2-3 hours practice time a week.  Can you see where I am going with this?  With this is mind are we now seeing a picture as to why we can't produce good technical players that are confident on the ball?  This leads me on nicely to the 10,000 hours theory.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called, 'Outliers'.  Throughout the book he discusses how family, culture & friendship each play a role in an individual's success.  He also constantly asks whether successful people deserve the praise that we give them.

What is interesting is that Gladwell discusses the high number of elite Canadian hockey players who are all born in the first few months of the calendar year.  The answer, he points out, is that since youth hockey leagues determine eligibility by calendar year, children born on 1 January play in the same league as those born 31 December in the same year.  Children who are born earlier in the year are bigger & maturer than their younger competitors, they are often identified as better athletes.  This is dubbed by Gladwell as, 'accumulative advantage.'  I am sure we all have seen it happen in the youth football (soccer) leagues - especially in the UK & Ireland!

A common theme that appears throughout the book is the '10,000 Hour Rule', based on a study by Anders Ericsson.  Gladwell claims that greatness requires enormous time.  He uses the Beatles' musical talents as an example.  The Beatles performed live in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times from 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time.  Gladwell goes on to say that by the time they all returned to England they sounded like no one else.  It was the making of them.

10,000 hour rule is simply a matter of practicing 20 hours a week for 10 years

To offer a few examples that has been studied include the tennis prodigy who starts playing at 6 is playing in Wimbledon at 16 or 17, like Boris Becker.  The classical musician who starts playing the violin at 4 is debuting at Carnegie Hall at 15.

The obsessive approach is particularly evident in sporting icons.  Tiger Woods, the golfer & the Williams sisters in tennis have all trained relentlessly since they were children.  The interesting thing is the examples listed above are all solo sports or a musician.  We have to ask ourselves as coaches (& parents) is my child getting the individual needs at a group football session?

I read a great example in the Sunday Times of determined athletes that fought back from disappointment...

'Much of Britain's Olympic success is down to a combination of natural ability & sheer dedication.  Victoria Pendleton's emphatic gold in the woman's sprint cycling in Beijing came only after a humiliating defeat in Athens 4 years ago.  After training for 4 hours a day, 6 days a week the 27 year old finally reaped the rewards.  Rebecca Adlington, the 19 year old swimmer who won 2 gold medals at the Beijing Games, has put in an estimated 8,840 hours of training since the age of 12.'

I work with a talent on a daily basis.  He has been part of my programme from the age of 6.  Over the past 2 years I have worked 1-on-1 with him.  I personally believe in the '10,000 hours theory'.  Currently Luke works close to 20 hours per week.  It's a very busy schedule but we monitor closely his school work, rest & free time.  He enjoys everything he does & is a pleasure to work with.

I personally work with him 1-on-1 for 60-75 minutes per session 4-5 days per week.  The 1-on-1 session allows us to focus on his game & his technical ability.  Parents (& some coaches) don't realise the importance of this.  If your child falls behind with their school work they will be offered special classes to catch up with other children.  In football they simply fall further behind.  Luke also attends my elite Academy for 90 minutes on a weekly basis.  He trains with his own club twice a week & trains with the National County team once to twice weekly.  His schedule is complete with a weekly session with the Liverpool Academy (based in Belfast) & a 1-on-1 session at the local martial arts studio.  His school football, PE & personal practice time brings Luke to the 20 hours weekly practice time.  How many other children are even getting close to this?


10,ooo hour rule is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years.  Along with passion, ambition & determination (this can be applied to any professional field) you'll need...

  1. 1. Find your passion.  Ask yourself what do you absolutely enjoy doing.  Discover what you love to do that makes time fly.
  2. 2. 10,000 hours is about 3 hours a day over 10 years.  Although 10 years may seem a long time, but that is why the first step is so important.  Spending this kind of time on your passion will not feel like work nor will it feel like 10 years.
  3. 3. Make adjustments to your 10,000 hour schedule.  Add additional hours when you have free time (likewise rest around games)
  4. 4. If it happens sooner, then that is great, but don't be discouraged if it takes longer.  A great recent example is Matt Jarvis.  He was released by Millwall when he was 14, went to Gillingham, now at Wolves playing in the Premiership & just about to win his first cap for England!
  5. 5. Begin your 10,000 hour journey toward success today.

Although one thing to keep a close eye on is the actual work you do in those many times is your child, or player, touching the ball?  I have been conducting a study that may unearth a few surprises.  I will bring the findings to you in my next blog post.  If your child is only training once weekly & simply playing a game at the end of the week you are in for a real shock.

The results could easily suggest why so many kids don't develop to the initial early promise & talent they may possess.

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Do you coach enough 1 v 1’s?

How many coaches in the UK (& parents!) do you hear on the touch line shout, 'PASS!' or even worse, 'GET RID OF IT!'  Why do we never hear & encourage players to, 'TAKE HIM ON!'?  It all comes down to our cultural & how we develop young players.  If we are not encouraging enough 1 v 1's in training it certainly isn't going to happen on the pitch.

1 v 1 high pressure drills are great

As football fans what do we love to see?  Well I love to see players dribble & take players on.  That is why so many of the legends of the game stand out simply for that reason.  George Best & Pele are to stand out players & more recently in the modern game we have players like Giggs, Ronaldo & Messi.  So with this in mind we should spend more time working on dribbling & 1 v 1 scenario's in training.

I know a number of coaches that stop doing 1 v 1's after kids are 10 because they feel they want to go on to 'more advanced' drills.  1 v 1's are not only great to develop dribbling, skills & taking someone on but they are great for speed, fitness & development.  It's not only junior teams performing 1 v 1's but top European Clubs have their players working on them.  On my last club visit to SC Braga we watched the senior team perform 1 v 1's, 2 v 1's & 2 v 2's.  They really worked the players in a tight area working on dribbling, skill, touch, speed & decision making.  Players obviously enjoy 1 v 1's - especially if you have a target or goal at the end!

When I visited Barcelona they had all their youth teams performing 1 v 1.  It is such a simple game but simply played on different levels.  For example one of the Barca sessions involved players working in partners with a ball.  One would start with the ball on the throw in line with his partner facing him a couple of yards away.  They both nodded & played 1 v 1.  The attacker would try to dribble to the far side while the defender looked to gain possession at attack the line he was facing.  Simple?  Of course.  Effective?  Yes.  Result?  Players enjoy the session & Barcelona's methods have been known to develop the odd good player ; )

Below you will find my session plan that focus on 1 v 1's developing on to possession games that encourage 1 v 1 duels.

Please remember to stop long lines forming!  It is my one pet hate!  Set up a number of areas so you can divide your players.  It is fine to have a few players in a line as that will act as recovery for the players.  Also let the players see & feel your excitement.  If you see a player perform a great skill to beat the defender really applaud & cheer.  Don't be a stuck up, boring coach - get down to the kids level & have fun!

1 V 1 Dribbling Game

1 V 1 Dribbling Game


Beat the defender.


One end line marked out with 2 cones 5 yards apart.  Also angle another 2 end lines either side at an angle.


Attacker starts approximately 10 yards away from the end line.  They run with the ball trying to beat the defender & dribble through one of the end lines.  2 points through the central end line, 1 point for other angled end lines.

Defender wins 1 point for kicking the ball out or 2 points for winning the ball & playing to next attacker in line.

Avoid long lines!  Set up a couple of areas the same as above if you are working with large numbers.


  1. Increase / decrease area depending on group size & success rate.
  2. Encourage attacking players to perform skills to beat the defender.


  • Assertive, determined dribbling in tight space.
  • Speed of approach with the ball.
  • Good ball control.

This is a nice session for players to come into after a warm up (with the ball of course!)  I always feel the players motivation is better if there is a goal or reward at the end of it.  I simply operated the session as 'every man for themself'!  They kept score from all successful 1 v 1 duels & were also able to add the points from any successful defending.
I then like to develop the session into a small sided game.  Basically taking the technical side of the session into a more tactical game.

Improving Passing & Movement

Improving Passing & Movement


Possession game focusing on passing, support & individual play.


40 x 40 yard area, 5 v 5 inside the grid with 3 neutral players.  Have a supply of balls around the outside of the grid to keep the game flowing.


5 v 5 match inside the grid with 3 neutral players combining with the team in possession to make it 8 v 5.

A goal is scored by stopping the ball on your opponents end line (red top, blue bottom.)

Play 5 minute games or shorter depending on the fitness of the group.


  1. Limit the touches.
  2. Bonus points for special combination, i.e. 1-2 or overlap.
  3. Attack either end, i.e. after scoring & giving possession to the other team you can keep it & attack the other line.
  4. Attack either side (all 4 sides of the square) but introduce mini goals to limit the area you can score along the line.


  • Pass & move.
  • When to play & when to pass, beat the opponent on your own or with a 1-2 combination.
  • Quality passing.
  • Support play.
  • Work rate & movement on / off ball.
  • Communication.

As always I am flexible with how I set my sessions up.  As I was working more on 1 v 1 play I made the pitch smaller & tighter to try & create more 1 v 1 scenarios.  I had 16 boys report for training so I adapted the game to play 5 v 5 + 1 neutral player inside the area.  Another team of 5 played as wall players & simply played with the team in possession.  There was obviously an overload in attack but I don't mind this as it offers success but at the same time it makes the team without possession work hard to win it back.  It also teaches how important ball retention is!  I played 4 minute high tempo periods.
I enjoyed this session as one team stood out for me in terms of being the most successful at the game.  What was their secret?  They were brave, if you like, took risks.  They weren't afraid to take players on.  They also learnt by beating a defender they always then had a man over & they used it to their advantage.  Their decision making & movement on & off the ball was terrific.
It is also nice to offer players a goal to hit.  I added a simple 1 v 1 shooting session that is shown below.  I operated this using 2 goals so it kept the lines to a minimum & kept players moving.

1 V 1 Shooting

1 v 1 Shooting


1 v 1 with passing, dribbling, feinting, shooting & defending.


A group of players with a supply of balls position themselves behind a cone on the goal line midway between the goal & 18 yard line.

Another group of players position themselves behind a cone just outside the 'D'.


Player A passes the ball to player B.  Player B dribbles towards the goal, tries to feint player A & score.

If player B scores, or if player A wins the ball, play starts again with two new players.


  1. Players rotate positions so that they both get an opportunity to attack & defend.
  2. Limit time to encourage speed.


  • Accurate passing.
  • Feint & skills to beat the defender.
  • Speed.
  • Shooting technique.
  • Follow shots in.
  • Defensive technique.
  • Close down attacker but don't dive in - jockey.
  • Position your body so that you can force attacker wide of goal.
  • Keep eye on ball & be patient.
  • Decision making.

This then led my session to the tactical game.  I refer to Barcelona a lot - but for good reason.  Not only is their ball retention superb but on the occasions they lose possession just watch how hard & quickly they look to win the ball back.  This is not pointed out enough.  The stars of Barca don't receive enough credit for the work rate they put in to win the ball back.  For players to do this it must be coached, you must also add an incentive & reward for it being carried out right.
Below you will find my transition game to encourage my players to win the ball back as quickly as possible.

6 Second Transition Game

6 Second Transition Game


Teams are at their most vulnerable in terms of losing the ball in the first few seconds after gaining possession.  It is this transition period that we are looking at, both in terms of winning the ball back quickly & then keeping it.

The key is the first 6 seconds after losing the ball.  This period is when the opposition have not yet switched from defensive to possession mode.

The other key period is those 6 seconds after you have won the ball back & need to maintain possession during that critical period when your team is changing shape & finding space (going wide & deep.)


40 x 25 yard pitch with 2 mini soccer goals.  You can play 4 v 4 - 11 v 11 depending on the amount of players you have available.

Have a supply of balls in either goal.  Play starts with the goalkeeper rolling it out.


In this game when a team lose possession they have 6 seconds to win the ball back (the coach counts this out loud.)  If they win it back in that time they are awarded a point (a goal.)

The idea is to double team & work frantically to get the ball back in the allotted time frame.  If they fail to achieve this they must then go to the centre & make sure they close all the gaps & limit the space for the opposition.

If they do win the ball back within 6 seconds, if they are high up the pitch they must look for an immediate goal scoring opportunity.  If they are in a more crowded midfield area they must look for an 'outman' who can get hold of the ball & maintain possession through the crucial 6 second period.


  1. Adapt amount of players & size of pitch.
  2. Award bonus points for set amount of passes / time opposition keep the ball.


Trying to win possession;

  • Concentrate on closing down - 'PRESS'.  When a player goes to win possession players around them close space - tuck in.  Don't dive in!
  • Keep shape, apply pressure while others react & drop off but cover space in behind.
  • Communication.
  • Nearest player pressures the ball.
  • On the call, 'PRESS', all players should look to win the ball off the opposition.

In possession;

  • Quality passing - weight & accuracy.
  • Decision making.
  • Support play.
  • Work rate on / off ball.
  • Receive ball side on.
  • Head up.
  • Play simple pass.
  • Look for space.
  • Use of width & depth.

My players love sessions like this as much as I do.  They receive so many touches of the ball.  The full session was carried out to such a high standard.  Always remember to reward your players with free play.  I offered 15 minutes free play at the end before carrying out a cool down.

Remember you can have full access to all my session plans by clicking here!  As always please add your comments & if you like to use the session & share with others please credit my work with a link back to my blog or coaching website.