The 10,000 Hour Elite Training Article Hysteria

If you have not read the article on The 10,000 Hour Elite Excellence that I wrote, you will probably want to read it first to really understand this article. I fully understand that not all the criticisms were instigated by my article, but I will attempt to answer all the criticisms that relate to gymnastics, anyway.

For Gymnasts and Parents Reading This Article

All young gymnasts should understand that research has shown that they have an equal chance to become excellent, expert gymnasts as anyone else. You may believe that, even if your coach or anyone else does not. If you want to be an excellent gymnast, you need to be willing to pay the price, and one of the highest prices to be paid is that you will need to spend literally about an average of 4 hours per day for 10 years training. You will also need the other pieces of the puzzle in place, support of your parents, to be training in a fully equipped gym, in a training program designed to produce excellent gymnasts and with a coach who is capable of coaching gymnasts to that level.

Hysteria Abounds

There was a rather strong and continuing hysterical response to the article and some of the concepts in the article. The large response has left somewhat of an imbalance about the topic in the gymnastics community, so I thought I would take another shot at clearing the record and dispelling some of the criticism.

No Research to Show That Any System of Picking Talented Gymnasts is Scientifically Valid

The primary reason for writing the article was to encourage gymnasts, who for what ever reason did not feel they were “talented” or were not one of some group chosen by their coach to be fast tracked, that there was research to show that, regardless of what they were told by their coach, or anyone else, that if they were willing to pay the price, they could make it, too. One of the prices athletes have to pay to achieve excellence is that they have to put in enough purposeful, goal-directed hours and that the research has suggested the amount of time they should count on putting in was 10,000 hours.

Coaches – Are You Training All Your Gymnasts To be Excellent?
If Not, Why Not?

The article was also supposed to be a wake-up call for coaches, who thought they were capable of judging which gymnasts would make it (and therefore be worthy of extra attention and training from the coach) and which would not. It is arrogant and irrational to believe that coaches can pick gymnasts at a young age who will end up being the most excellent gymnast in their gym 10 years later. Coaches simply cannot do that, no matter what they think, if for no other reason than that they have no real clue about the long-term internal psychological motivation and drive levels of gymnasts. Coaches, who only work to their max, with certain gymnasts they deem to be “talented” enough, are missing a majority of gymnasts, who, long term, actually would have equal prospects for success. And since it is proven that teacher/coach expectations can to a large extent determine performance, those coaches are doing their gymnasts, their parents and the sport a huge disservice.

You Think Coaches Can Pick the Future Talent Based on “Talent” at Age 5? Really?

I could win money all day long betting that coaches will not even be able to pick who will be the best gymnast in their gym 4 years from now, much less 10 years from now. Gymnasts quit, move, become cheerleaders, get boyfriends, run out of money, don’t have the long-term motivation and drive, never learn to work hard, try to “coast” on their talent, get injured, don’t have a winning mentality, are not confident enough to win, and have any number of other problems that keep them from becoming excellent gymnasts, no matter how obviously “talented” they were at age 5. Gymnastics excellence is a marathon of training, not a talent sprint.

Burnt Out Early

Anecdotally, over the years, one of the interesting facts that we have noticed is that, in national gymnastics magazines, from time to time, there are certain individual gymnasts, who were picked out, and the comment was made, that because of their talent and early rapid progress, they were certain to be future Olympians. But the reality was that none, I repeat, NONE of them ever really did make an Olympic team – not one of them.

No One is Talented Enough To Just Do Double Backs (Or At Least Twisting Doubles)

While there have been gymnasts, who displayed early talent and became successful Elites, there have been an equal number of “late-bloomers” who did not display any particular visible early talent. Gymnasts who have been successful have sometimes made it on the basis of trained talent and others by virtue of hard work. It is not uncommon for gymnasts, to whom early success came easily, do not have the psychology and ability to adapt to having to work hard to learn high level skills, which cannot be don just on talent alone.

Real Champions Attribute Their Success to Hours of Hard Training

One of my former gymnasts, and multiple National Tumbling Champion, recently got angry with me because I told a group of our friends how talented she was. She said, “I was never talented. Don’t you remember? Nothing came easy to me. I had to work hard for everything I got.” And I did remember, and she was right to demand respect, not for some arbitrary snapshot in time “talent” label, that is only applied after the fact of visible gymnasts success. They deserve to be respected for their drive and determination that allowed them to put in the years and years of hard work necessary to be considered a “talented” gymnast. She wanted credit for her hours and hours of work, because she knew that was what got her to that level, not talent.

Talent is Overrated

One of the complaints was that “Anyone who claims ‘There is no such thing as talent’ is wrong.” The paragraph headline in the article was just as above, and my article made no such claim. The claim was that, in the comparison of gymnastics talent vs. hours of training, the hours were the critical factor. The “talent” label is a snapshot in time and early bloomers have the “talent” label lose it later when they face and late bloomers, like my friend above, get the talented” label after years of hard work.

10,000 Hours to Excellence, Not to Being the Guaranteed Champion

Many critics seemed unable to distinguish the difference between excellence and expertise vs. winning. It is an illogical jump to equate excellence and winning, and we made no claim in the article that anyone who put in their 10,000 hours would be an automatic winner at any level. The 10,000 hours is simply the time price that needs to be paid to achieve true excellence, not any guarantee of being number one in the sport.

Coaching and Gymnastics Training Systems Matter

The fact that research has shown that approximately 10,000 is what it takes, on average, to become excellent, does not negate the necessity to be trained correctly and to be training correctly, during those 10,000 hours. It is a fact that there is a shortage of gymnastics coaches in the U.S., who are capable of producing elite gymnasts. Just our casual statistical analysis of how few gyms in the country are producing the U.S. National team members points out this problem. We are among the foremost advocates of developing more US gymnastics coaches’ training, education and high level coaching information being more widespread.

10,000 Hours Wouldn’t Have Got You in the NBA

Is it impossible to be an expert and an excellent basketball player without being in the NBA? Anyone who has played basketball on the streets and playgrounds of New York, knows there are excellent basketball players, who are not in the NBA, and who, in fact, are better than many of the basketball players in the NBA. And there are numerous examples of that. Why are they not in the NBA? The reasons are a as varied as human beings are, and can range from arrest records to personal choices to devote themselves to achieving a medical degree. In summary, being or winning in the NBA is not the true measure of basketball excellence.

Any One Remember Spud Webb?

A very short person can be an excellent basketball player (technically, shooting stat-wise and knowledge and experience-based), but they may or may not be able to win against much taller players. But it is possible for short players to play in the NBA and even win the slam dunk contest. Those in gymnastics should certainly understand that you do not need to be tall to be an excellent athlete.

No One said There Were No Exceptions to the Rule

Everyone understands that certain sports may benefit, to some extent, from certain body types. But a short athlete can excel in the NBA and tall gymnasts can succeed and become excellent gymnasts. If my memory serves me correctly, Hills Gymnastics used to have an excellent Level 10 gymnast, who was so tall her feet would drag the mat, when she swung on the high bar. Yet she did extremely high level difficulty skills on every event, including double somersaults and full-ins.

10,000 Hours of Training is Not Rubbish, But Much of the Criticism Has Been

Another critic wrote an article about 10,000 hours of training to be a champion being rubbish. He had 10 so-called reasons why he thought it was rubbish. His first three points tried to say the concept was invalid because gymnasts were different and learned differently and at different rates. That is true, but those variations average out over 10 years and 10,000 hours of training – invalid criticism.

Why 10,000 Hours and Not Some Other Number?

His next criticism asked why 10,000 hours and not some other number. That answer is obvious – because that is the number Dr. Benjamin Bloom found it to be in his scientific research. It wasn’t, and isn’t, an arbitrary number. It is a number with scientific and statistical significance. Other less cogent criticisms about athletes not being excellent at 9999 (or some other number) hours and then being excellent with only one more hour, totally miss the point and are absurd, invalid criticisms. When critics (not the author) make up some irrelevant scenario, and they then criticize their own made-up scenario, then that is not a valid criticism.

Training Matters

The critic then pretends that all of the 10,000 hour references to “deliberate and purposeful” training that are referenced, did not take into account coaching, training methods and systems, training progressions, goal oriented training and psychological factors. They most certainly were always carefully taken into account, even if it was not the focus of this particular article.

Being Different, Individual and Unique = Being a Champion? Not!

The 10th criticism by the critic is perhaps even less logical and true than the rest, as he attributes becoming a champion to being different, individual and unique. None of those factors appear correlated or even particularly relevant to athletic excellence.

Not Our Job To Try To Change Anyone’s Mind

It is a psychological fact that once people have formed an opinion, and especially after they have stated it publicly, they really tend to discount or ignore any evidence contrary to their position, but accept and believe any evidence that supports their position (even if it happens to be sketchy). We therefore never wish to waste our time trying to change anyone’s minds, but in this case, we wanted to make sure that more complete information exists for those who still have open minds.

Can the 10,000 Hour Training Time be Reduced?

I was mentored by Russian coaches, who were successfully able to cut the amount of training hours necessary to achieve excellence, through extraordinarily effective training methods. In addition, Bloom’s scientific studies were based on training, that did not have the advantage of the psychological training techniques I teach. With young gymnasts having to attend school, or at least spend significant time being educated, finding more efficient training methods, that take less time, should be a high priority for gymnastics coaches.

How Should Gyms and Coaches Be Planning Their Entire Gym Program To Provide 10,000 Hours of Elite Training?

Few gym owners, gyms and coaches have spent any time developing a cohesive, comprehensive age 6 – 18 training plan and program to provide Elite training, much less 10,000 hours of it. That is exactly the type of thing we spend our time doing.

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One Response to “The 10,000 Hour Elite Training Article Hysteria”

  1. Gymnastics Zone February 17, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    There is now a practical demonstration, albeit in golf, not gymnastics that the previously called “theory” of 10,000 hours of purposeful training does actually work just the way we said in our articles.

    http://thedanplan.com is a blog about a man who had never played a full 18 holes of golf in his life and deciided to quit his job (at age 30) to train to be a pro golfer using the 10,000 Training Plan. Dan is purposefully training, averaging about 30 hours a week, practicing golf in a scientifically organized manner. The DanPlan is to get his PGA Tour card by the time he has trained 10,000 hours. The plan is definitely and obviously working. His current handicap is 5.8, which puts him in the top 9% of the 26 million golfers in America after only 3600 hours of training so far.

    This is the practical proof of one of the most important and basic training theories to which we have subscribed in our gymnastics and coaches training. Anyone who does not understand and subscribe to the validity of the 10,000 Hour Training Program has a difficult obstacle to their coaching and gymnastics success.

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