There Is No One Answer!!

I have written several times over the years about the 10,000 Hour Rule.  While I understand that this is not in fact a ‘rule’, it has always been an intriguing idea for one reason.  Explicit in the ‘rule’ is the importance of practice.  And not just any practice, deliberate practice which has the specific goal of improving performance.  This is the most powerful, and more or less only, takeaway.

Since it was first popularised by Malcolm Gladwell, the ‘rule’ has been often used to prove that talent does not exist. For example by Daniel Coyle and Matthew Syed.  The suggestion that talent does not exist is an intoxicating one, particularly for coaches who can tell their athletes that hard work is the sole determinant of success and everyone has an equal chance, and thereby increasing their own importance in the process.  They continue to maintain this stance despite the fact that it is patently ridiculous.

With that background, I read a blog post that quoted studies digging deeper into the importance and effectiveness of training.  The researchers quoted a figure of 18%.  That is practice accounted for 18% of variance in sports performance.  For the non maths experts, 18% is less 100%.

“Our conclusion is that, of course, deliberate practice is an important factor, but it’s not the only factor or even the largest factor,”

Shockingly, the author of the study on which all of this is based, K. Anders Ericsson, disagrees with that conclusion*, pointing out all sorts of flaws in interpretation and method.

To rub salt into the wounds,

“…it’s time to get beyond the idea that talent is either “born” (genetic) or “made” (all about practice). Instead they propose what they call a “multifactorial” model. It features arrows going all over the place in an effort to capture how factors like basic ability, personality, and deliberate practice affect each other and the overall development of talent.”

It is incredibly attractive to think that for every situation there is only one answer.  It allows us to simplify the world into patterns we can more easily understand.  Coaches love to think that there is a best technique or method and applying it will inevitably lead to success.  Attractive as it is, this kind of thinking is that it doesn’t take into account reality.  There are so many factors involved that trying to identify a single answer can only ever lead to superficial thinking.

There is NEVER only one answer.


*Presumably Gladwell, Coyle and Syed also disagree.


Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.

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2 thoughts on “There Is No One Answer!!

  1. Oliver Wagner (@volleyblogger)

    Thanks for emphasizing this. Talent or a special method alone are very complex things to apply into a training program. I think science has some pretty good idea how learning works, but applying this knowledge to any situation isn’t that easy. Because of the complexity involved.

    I don’t think that science wanted to indicate, that deliberate practice is an easy thing. This is more what we coaches want to hear. Because if there is one easy answer and we are applying it to our situation, then nobody can hold us responsible for a bad outcome. So you pointing out that there is no one answer takes away any excuses. It means much more work for us coaches instead 🙂

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  2. Clayton Lucas

    A talented athlete is only that. They still require guidance, coaching, enabling and all the other big words used to say virtually the same thing. If these elements are buggered up then you are left with a player that was/is very good at doing things the wrong way. The less talented player given all the right tools and shown how to use them properly will be the better player in that scenario. Then you have the scenario where both the talented and not so, are given all the right things to make them better. Likely end result? the talented player gets there quicker and maybe does not have to work as hard, but you can still have two players of equal ability. Are the coaches prepared to wait? and can they keep the talented athletes “feet on the ground”. I hate it when I see a young “talented player” defined as such because they do one thing brilliantly once in 10 or 15 points and the rest of the time its horrible. Yet the praise is heaped on them and they are told how good they are going to be!!! THEY DO ACTUALLY HAVE TO GET THERE BY TRAINING PROPERLY!! (That maybe just a UK thing). A player may well have potential, but if not dealt with properly it becomes the potential to get the coach the sack.

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