We immediately thought about the concept that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become expert at any task. We first encountered this idea in the 2006 edition of the BCU Coaching Handbook, which states: "Practice makes permanent. Therefore poor practice will indeed make poor performance....If we are to produce high-level performers, we could be talking of up to 10,000 hours...to hit our genetic ceiling and produce performers who excel at their chosen sport."
This notion is actually based research by K. Anders Ericsson and Neil Charness, published in 1994 in the journal American Psychologist. In "Expert Performance: It's Structure and Acquisition," Ericsson and Charness analyze the results of their study of musicians. "By age 20, the top-level violinists in their study had practiced an average of more than 10,000 hours, approximately 2,500 hours more than the next most accomplished group of expert violinists and 5,000 hours more than the group who performed at the lowest level," they wrote. This is the only reference to 10,000 hours in that report, which emphasizes that diligence trumps innate talent even in areas like athletics and music performance.
It wasn't until Malcolm Gladwell published his best-selling book Outliers: The Story of Success in 2008 that the notion of 10,000 hours took off.
|This wonderful infographic, created by nowsourcing.com on behalf of Zintro, visualizes Malcolm Gladwell's explanation of the 10,000-hour rule.|
And, of course, plenty of people disputed the idea. Clearly, there's nothing magical about the exact number 10,000. But there's plenty of evidence that deliberate practice does improve performance, and that while some is good, more is better.
Which brings us back to the shoelaces. Learning to tie them correctly after years of poor practice is difficult. It requires conscious thought and deliberate practice to undo the deeply ingrained motor memory we have developed over the past 40 years. It reminds us of how hard it is for our students to become competent paddlers if they don't spend adequate time working on their skills in a methodical fashion. Deliberate practice, according to Ericsson, means "activities designed, typically by a teacher, for the sole purpose of effectively improving specific aspects of an individual's performance." Or, in kayaking terms, good coaching and lots of practice.