Talent Transfer and the 10,000 Hour Rule (1,2)

It is popular to believe it takes about 10,000 hours to become an elite athlete in most sports. There are exceptions, that seem to have clear explanations. Those exceptions are few and far between. Furthermore, a close examination of those exceptions reveals some associated phenotype or uniqueness to an endeavor that complimented the sport. Essentially, those exceptions are based on talent transfer.

For example, in the UK, female athletes were selected to train for rowing based on height and weight regardless of having ever rowed. Rowers are ideally shaped if the are tall and light. Their height gives them leverage on the oars. Being light is a speed benefit while in the boat. In rowing, physical size plays a major roll.

The UK placed ads in the press seeking female athletes of a certain height. Those meeting the requirements were physiologically tested for sports performance. From there a group passing the grade were trained as rowers. It worked and the UK earned a gold medal during the Olympics by a pair of rowers with relatively few years (4*) of training and experience. (*Helen Glover, 2012 Gold Medalist – Olympics)1

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Helen Glover with her Gold Medal (photo from Wikipedia)

Helen Glover, the Gold Medalist, had no experience rowing just 48 months prior to winning Gold. She was, however, already an accomplished athlete at the country level playing field hockey on a second-tier English national team.2 UK Sports, following a search based on specific phenotype criteria and testing, transferred Glover’s physical talent to rowing.

Years of practice aren’t the same as quality of practice. Each of your practice sessions needs a design and a goal. Every competition should have plan for the engagement. After shooting, practice and competition, it’s good to log notes that include range, type of competition, score, what went well and what did not go as planned. This will aid you in creating  training sessions.

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Participating in a charity event for the Special Olympics wearing my Team USA gear (made the team for the long course duathlon World Championship in 2007 – seems like yesterday)

I reviewed data one of the top archers in the world. He first picked up a bow at 12 then put it down until he was 18. Nineteen years later, and by my estimate 12,950 hours of practice he quit his day job to shoot full time. Note: he was approximately 2,950 hours beyond the 10,000-hour mark some suggest is needed to reach an elite level.

Most working people easily fit in 400 hours of training a year. Some do more, other less. Top amateurs practice, by my estimation, 750 hours per year. The bulk of that training is on the weekend. The fellows I shoot with, as gathered through causal conversation, have an average of 25 years shooting experience and are at the 10,000-hour mark regarding practice time. (Based on 400 hours of training per year.) They’re a tough bunch to shoot against.

Of the folks I shoot with and compete against, none is at a professional level that allows them to earn a living exclusively from archery.  Yes, they all seem to have passed the 10,000 mark to have reached an elite level.  Many of them are elite archers.  Several have been world champions a few of them more than once.

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For certain I’ve got well over 10,000 hours of training on a bike.

10,000 hours (or sometimes equated to 10 years of training) is a long time.  Many archers, in fact, have 10,000 or more of practice.  Obviously, not all them or even most of them are elite archers.  To muddy this a bit more, there are archers competing in all types of archery event at the elite level with far fewer hours of practice than 10,000.

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How much training can I transfer to archery or is it good enough to simply look this cool (Yes, I know this isn’t cool. Once a geek, always a geek)

The difference may be the talent transfer.  An athlete that was good or pretty good in one sport can occasionally excel in another. Glover is just one example. There’s another matter, that of deliberate or highly focused training.

An archer that goes to the range, shoots 20 to 30 arrows without a plan isn’t accomplishing much. If that effort takes an hour, the practice is done four times during the weekdays and that training augmented by another four hours on the weekend, it comes to 10,000 hours (allowing for holidays) after 25-years of practice.  You might imagine, that archer, while pretty good, and regardless of having achieved the 10,000 hour mark, is in most likelihood not an elite archer.

Then, in archery there is Crystal Gauvin who, after one year of archery experience, dropped everything to turn professional.  Something I consider important is that she had been a serious athlete prior to finding her place in archery – talent transfer and way less than 10,000 of archer practice.

It doesn’t take 10,000 of practice for everyone to reach an elite level.  It does take practice.  Archers with 10,000 or more hours of practice may never reach the elite level. The practice isn’t enough without specific practice goals.  Individuals that do succeed in archery by what appears to be a fast-track, are often those that switched or transferred athletic talent into archery.

Reference:

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Glover_(rower)
  • McClusky: Faster, Higher Stronger: The New Science of Creating Superathletes, and How You Can Train Like Them. Chapter 5, The Fast Track to Greatness, Talent Transfer and the 10,000 Hours Rule, pp 78-81 PLUME NY, NY 2015

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