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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4 Responses to “10,000 Hours Theory”

  1. Paul Kirk says:

    Some great points in there tim and i agree to be the best no matter what sacrifices have to be made and practice has to be applied, and the comments about children being up to 9 months older at the same age level is spot on,how ever i also believe in having balance in whatever you do this keeps the main focus fresh. On a personal level there was never a night went past when me and my son Andrew never went to the park to practice hours and hours perfecting technical ability, he has done well for himself and it was all worth while. To reach the moon you must fly many miles

  2. admin says:

    Great words gaffer, the amount I have learnt from working under you for 7 years is invaluable & have helped make me the coach that I am.

    Looking forward to having you take a session at the Academy Sunday week. The kids will excel having a Pro Licence coach take a session with over 40 years playing & managing experience (or is it more lol)

    Perhaps you would like to provide your session notes for me to share on the blog…I am sure we would have a number of coaches interested?

  3. David Stone says:

    Thats an amazing article tim, there is so much in it, that i totally agree with, like the whole playing football in the street or field for limitless hours a day and the only adult was your mum, mine was “you may be in when the street lights turn on” if i missed it, wasn’t aloud out, or if i was nice and did the coal bunker i was aloud out for… an extra hour, then mobiles were invented if you were fortunate enough to have one a pleasent phone call to stay out kicking the ball at the garages or the shops made your night, wee had electric sam coming over to us, old guy, always stunk of drink trying overhead kicks, k’od himself once! very funny story, but just reading your blog, bought back so many memories of being a boy growing up in the same place george best graced his presence with, and still to this day lights get turned off, or the sun goe’s down, im still the fella wanting a few more minutes to do one more thing with the ball! Thanks tim, truly inspirational!!!

  4. Lindsay Kellogg says:

    I am very interested in the 10,000 hours rule. One thing that puzzles me though is that Tiger Woods is let’s say one the greatest sportsman that ever lived and has put in his 10,000 hours, compare that to other sportsmen and women who have also put in the 10,000 hours and they do not seem to even be considered his ‘equal’ in terms of talent that one could have. It seems after the 10,000 hours have been completed and mastery of your own skill achieved there still seems to be a wide variation of different types of mastery. Another example would be the Beatles…John,Paul and George all in the original line up all racked up the same amount of hours in Hamburg yet John and Paul outshone George in their talent although they could all have said to have completed their 10,000 hours mastery.What thoughts would you have why this may be so?

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