The 10,000 Hour MYTH

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So, I got a comment on one of my articles (Become a Professional Soccer Player) and I thought I’d share the comment and my response to it.

In a nutshell, Jeff stated that the youth of America lacked the understanding of what becoming a professional soccer player takes, and that it’s NOT about 10,000 hours of training, but something more. In the article he read, I stated that our youth soccer development programs don’t allow for the 10,000 hours of training someone needs to become expert at the game, and that is why we’re failing to develop our youth soccer players to become international level players.

Jeff stated that you don’t NEED 10,000 hours.

I wrote that article over 3 years ago, and I’ve learned a lot since then. His comment and then my comment to him are below.

The 10,000 Hour MYTH

10,000 Hours of Commitment & Training
Mike,

The road to becoming a professional athlete is difficult and takes dedication. In the US the road to playing professional soccer is indeed mired due to our current infrastructure. But just because a kid strives to become the next Messi does not mean he should not try. There are many professions in sports that are not on the field. Soccer can help open doors to these and they can become world class at sports management, physical therapy, grounds keeping, etc. As for the concrete wall that is training/time we need a load of TNT.

K. Anders Ericsson a Professor of Psychology at Florida State University did a study where he showed it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become the very best at anything. He studied athletes, musicians, artists, doctors, chess grand masters….wanting to know how long it takes to get to The Top of a field…10,000 hours of deliberate practice was the finding.

The bestselling book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10,000 hour rule and media/public started twisting it from ‘The Top’ to ‘expert’ to ‘good’ and so on.

New training techniques and learning understanding now shows that a person can become ‘very good’ at something, say soccer, in less than a month and in the top 5% within a sub group (youth, collage, professional, etc.) inside of one year with proper training and far fewer than 10,000 hours invested. To reach the top 4%, 3%, 2%, 1% does take much more time and practice.

A Princeton study has further “found that practice accounted for just a 12% difference in performance in various domains.”
• In music 21%
• In sports 18%
• In education 4%
• In professions 1%

Certainly professional soccer players are/should be in the top 5% of players. The Messi’s, Renaldo’s, Ibra’s of the world are top 3, 2, 1% and since they are professionals and soccer is their job giving the 10,000 is understandable, after all that’s just 5 years of a full time job (40hrs/wk, 50wks/yr).
For our US youth to become professionals in soccer and competitive with the world the system should change but we need to also change the techniques of training and the understanding of player development.

Jeff

The Personalities Doing the Work

Thanks for your input, Jeff.

I’m very familiar with the studies and books you mentioned, but the one thing all of that research leaves out are the PERSONALITIES behind those doing the work.

In the U.S., our pay-for-play system actually discriminates against the personalities who are most likely to become world class athletes. If you analyze soccer anywhere in Europe or South America, the best soccer players are those who were economically disadvantaged and/or had a troubled upbringing. Of course there are exceptions, but having a chip on your shoulder with only one outlet (soccer) makes it a lot easier to become a pro than growing up in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath house with plenty of food, toys, friends and close family constantly telling you how awesome you are, when you’ve done little more than stuff you face and s#*^ in the toilet.

In this country, we don’t have the best-of-the-best athletes playing pro soccer – we have the best-of-those-that-can-afford-the-fees. Our best soccer athletes are middle and upper-middle-class kids who grew up playing on plush fields with “A” level coaches. Our best international players are mixed race kids who grew up on German air bases in semi-racist environments, which is why they have the “chip on their shoulders”.

10,000 hours of 1-on-1 training with (another middle-class suburbanite) ex-college soccer player will only teach a kid to play SLOW. It won’t piss him off. 10,000 hours of playing soft with 21 other over-fed softies won’t make anyone HUNGER for more – more food, more money or more love. 10,000 hours of training provided to a 12 year old kid who’s driven every day to the gifted program at his school in a luxury car and given all of the love and encouragement necessary to become anything he wants in life isn’t going to produce a top quality professional soccer player. It’s going to create an engineer, a doctor, a math teacher or a successful business man.

Soccer is a blue-collar job. Most of the Soccer Mom Manual readership are NOT raising blue-collar workers. I’m certainly not.

Our current system of player development doesn’t work – no matter how many hours our kids put in – because it’s only targeting those who will PAY THE FEES. Our system does NOT target the demographic who would benefit MOST from the opportunity.

Why not?

Because why should I – an upper-middle-class, blue-eyed Caucasian male – provide an opportunity to someone not related to me that would create competition for my own off-spring? Most people see that as racism, but it’s really just LIFE. We all protect our own interests first. If it were otherwise, then we would all be living in economic and social harmony. We’d all be equal – but we’re not.

However, if anyone does start training our most desperate youth in the art of soccer, America will reign supreme for many generations to come. Consider Freddy Adu: He was the future of American soccer when he came from Ghana. Then he became a rich American – and everything went South.

Again, Jeff, thanks for your input. I’m interested to know what you think of my rant.

Mike Slatton

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About Author

Mike Slatton is a 2nd generation American youth soccer coach since 1984, and the son of one of the nation's first female licensed youth soccer coaches (Anita Slatton, 1979). He's also a professional soccer scout, a player since 1977, and the father of three adult and teenage children who all play or have played the game. "My job as a youth soccer coach is to develop detail oriented problem solvers who can react quickly under pressure. This relates to life - not just soccer."

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