Is it safe to assume that a gold medalist at the Olympics practiced more than a silver medalist—and that a silver medalist practiced more than a bronze winner? Definitely not, according to a new analysis, which looked at nearly 3,000 athletes. The study found that although becoming world class takes an enormous amount of practice, the success of elite athletes cannot be predicted based on the number of hours they spend in careful training.
In 1993 Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson published a highly influential paper that suggested performance differences between mediocre musicians and their superior counterparts—as determined by the evaluations of their professors—were largely determined by the number of hours they spent practicing. He would later publish work extending his theory to other pursuits, including sports, chess and medicine. Ericsson emphasized that there was no upper bound to the effect that deliberate practice had on success in these areas—the world’s best athletes, musicians and doctors were simply the ones who practiced the most. His work would eventually be popularized by journalist Malcolm Gladwell and others as the “10,000-hour rule,” which suggests that top performance in virtually any field is simply a matter of putting in 10,000 hours of work.
But a new study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science shows—as others have—that deliberate practice is just one factor that makes world sports champions. “More or less across the board, practice will improve one’s performance,” says Brooke Macnamara, a psychologist at Case Western University and lead author of the study. At a certain level of success, however, other factors determine who is the absolute best, she says.
Macnamara and her colleagues analyzed 34 studies that—put together—had tracked the number of hours 2,765 athletes had practiced. Those studies also recorded the athletes’ achievements, as determined by either objective measure such as a race time, expert rating of performance or membership in elite groups. For sports at all levels, including athletes performing at a state level or in clubs, deliberate practice could explain 18 percent of the differences in achievement between athletes. But when the researchers looked only at the very best competitors—those who had competed in the Olympics or other world competitions—differences in the number of hours they had practiced explained just 1 percent of the difference in their performance at sporting events. “This suggests that practice is important to a point, but it stops differentiating who’s good and who’s great,” Macnamara says. At the national and global level, a poorly understood mixture of genetics, psychological traits and other factors influence performance.
|Scooped by Wildcat2030|