Excellence takes time

Excellence Takes Time (10 year rule)

How long does it take for athletes to reach the top of their game? About 10,000 hours of training and competing. For most athletes, that translates into about 10 years.

Research has shown that it takes 10,000 hours of quality training for athletes to achieve their full potential and perform at an elite level. In most examples of top-ranked athletes and other star performers, their 10,000 hours are usually accumulated over at least 10 years of training and competing.

This translates into an average of 3 hours of daily training, applied practice and competition over 10 years. Again, this is an average over the span of 10 years. It is not desirable to see children formally “training” in one sport for three hours every day when they are 7 years old. Training hours increase during adolescence, and this rounds out the average.

Children should be active in a variety of sports and physical activities throughout the year while they are elementary school age. They should have daily physical activity that includes a blend of free play and formal activity that features quality coaching and instruction.

Increasing training hours

By the time an athlete has chosen to specialize in one sport – usually around age 14 – they should begin formal daily training for that sport. Their overall training hours should begin to approach 3 hours per day or more if they want to reach an elite or professional level. Not all of these “training hours” will involve training directly in their sport. Many of the hours will include generalized components such as flexibility training and fitness training (e.g. running, gym workouts).

Progression of training volumes by stage of development

Olympic athletes and the 10-Year Rule

  • In a comprehensive review of U.S. Olympians who competed between 1984 and 1998, the research revealed the following facts:
  • U.S. Olympians began participating in their sport at the average age of 12.0 years for males and 11.5 years for females.
  • Most U.S. Olympians reported a 12- to 13-year period of training and development from introduction to their sport to making the Olympic team.
  • U.S. Olympians who won medals tended to be 1.3 to 3.6 years younger than their teammates when they were introduced to their sport, suggesting that medalists benefited by receiving motor skill development and training at an earlier age. (Note: This does not say that they specialized in their sports at a young age. Caution must be taken not to fall into the trap of premature specialization, since it can actually have negative effects on the athlete’s long-term development.)

The Situation in Speed Skating

Through an analysis of top Canadian and international speed skating performers, we can predict an “optimal” age for talent identification, which supports the 10 year rule. Within speed skating, there are significant differences between both Long Track and Short Track Speed Skating. It is important to note that the rule of 10 allows for training and cross-over from other sports. Generally speaking, speed skating is a late specialization sport with Short Track having slightly younger indicators of talent ID than Long Track.

Findings indicate that:

  • Short Track Talent ID generally occurs late in the Training to Train stage of development, ages 12-13 years old for females and age 14 for males
  • Long track Talent ID generally occurs in the Learning or Training to Compete stage of development. Specifically, for male skaters it is around 17 years of age and 18 years of age for female skaters

Since the initial review of speed skating data, it has been observed but not quantified that an increasing number of skaters that have been identified in short track are crossing over to long track in their late teens and early 20s and quickly (within 2-3 years) achieving performance at a national and international level, demonstrating that when properly developed, many skills are transferable between disciplines.

Read More

Bestselling books such as The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, Bounce by Matthew Syed, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell discuss the significance of 10,000 hours of training and deep practice. These books are excellent popular reads that cite examples such as David Beckham, the Beatles, Mozart, and Michelangelo to illustrate how training and practice are far more significant to achieving excellence than “natural talent” or genetics.

The contents of this page were prepared using information from SSC's Racing on Skates and Find Your Edge document as well as resources from Canadian Sport for Life. To learn more about the Active Start stage of development and Physical Literacy visit www.canadiansportforlife.ca and www.activeforlife.ca.