The 10,000-hour rule for sporting success is largely a myth, so let kids dabble


Most elite athletes are more like Roger Federer, who dabbled in a vast number of sports – including skiing, wrestling, handball, skateboarding, football, badminton – which helped to develop his athleticism and hand-eye coordination, before focusing on tennis much later; or the Ukrainian Vasyl Lomachenko, who took four years off boxing as a kid to learn traditional Ukrainian dance and also did gymnastics, basketball, football and tennis and is now the best boxer in the world.

There is a message there, especially given that children can now join club academies from as young as eight. It pays to keep sampling other sports and to focus on fun practice before specialising later.

“Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in which they will eventually become experts”. “Instead they tend to ‘sample’ a wide number of sports in an unstructured or lightly unstructured environment” before specialising only later.

Why might this be? Part of it is that early specialisation and highly structured training can lead to lower motivation, burnout and potentially increased injury rates. But there is a more fundamental point: acquiring skills in multiple sports, often via unstructured play, helps develop creativity and equips people better to handle fresh challenges later in their sporting life.

what can lead to improvements in the short term can sometimes undermine long-term success. Experiment, have fun, be prepared to fail – and accept that, if you want to succeed, holding obsessively to the 10,000-hour rule is probably not the way to go.

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