You practice, practice, practice…goes the old joke. If all your archer does is practice flinging arrows, you’ll never get her to Carnegie Hall, though, because it takes more than just practice.
It is a fairly well-accepted rule that in order to be the best at “something”, you have to put in a lot of work, and a general rule of thumb popularized over the last few years is 10,000 hours.
That’s right, they say – Michael Phelps spent 10,000 hours swimming laps, Michael Jordan playing pickup on the neighborhood basketball courts for 10k hours . There is a lot of evidence when you look at various successful olympic athletes, that something similar about “time invested” applies. Another argument is that there really aren’t any “child prodigies” for sports, that the overnight sensations are usually people that labored (practiced) anonymously for years until they were discovered (or had honed their skills till they were “good enough”.
I fell in love with this whole concept when I first was told about it during an olympic coaching seminar held for all sports disciplines in Colorado, and I took it to heart since it merged with what through personal experience I felt I already knew. I also came home with the understanding that it is not merely “doing it everyday” instead of once every four years, but that it had to be purposeful practice.
This concept struck a deep chord, for I had unwittingly performed much this same concept in working with my athlete that ultimately medaled in Beijing. Coach Tom Parrish had told me as early as 2001 that Korean archers (then as now renowned as some of the world’s best) always practiced with a coach so that no bad habits were allowed to creep in. Therefore, I had resolved to coach my daughter this same way.
For my archer, it was that nearly every arrow, of nearly every single practice day during more than 8 years of dedication, was done with me coaching – analyzing, assessing, judging, providing instant feedback and reinforcement. The archer was incredibly adept at receiving the observations and adjusting continually. I would guess this applied for 80% of her practice time – the rest of the time she diligently worked on her skills by herself, almost always with a set of particular element(s) to improve. She rarely met the “4 to 6 hours per day” workload due to physical limitations. However, when she was training she put 100% of herself into it, a higher commitment than most athletes can manage for such an extended time. She was deeply invested in “purposeful practice”, and though I estimate she put in “only” 8,000 hours, it proved enough. Which brings me to ….
Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence , by Daniel Goleman
This book confirms in many ways the need for the “whatever-the-heck-number-of-hours-you-can-get-out-of-your-athlete” are, to be purposeful, innovative, challenging, stimulating, non-boring, enjoyable, well….you get the idea. I know it is a fact that in at least one medalist’s case, that if done with the right technique, you don’t need 10,000 hours and that is part of Goleman’s argument. It can be done with far less, (as well as require far more) – the 10k rule makes the assumption that the individual actually has the core strength in all the elements that define “elite” to rise to the top step. In reality few will, but I do believe the investment of hours will lead that athlete to be the best that she or he “can” be.
This book should be on your shelf, coach, with ample highlights, underlines, quotes identified, and with the understanding that like the other books in my bibliography up here, it’s both completely right and maybe all wrong. Take the parts that work best for your coaching philosophy and own them. If you are fortunate enough to encounter an athlete dedicated enough to attempt 10,000 hours of purposeful practice, you must be prepared to contribute your part to making those hours to be….purposeful enough, useful enough, effective enough, RIGHT enough, to enable that athlete to rise to his or her full potential. Will it be on the medal stand?
Only the gods of sport will decide upon which head the laurel wreath will rest.