Do Athletes Really Need 10,000 Hours?

In his book “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell discusses the 10,000-hour rule. Essentially stating, it takes 10,000 hours and a decade of dedication to become an expert in your chosen endeavor. With such a revelation, many people pursue this lofty goal to achieve “expert” status. As a result, in youth athletics, the idea of long-term athletic development, has become synonymous with the 10,000-hour rule. Suddenly, the specialization of youth sports is on the rise, because the assumption has become that the younger an athlete is when they reach these 10,000 hours, the more chance they have of becoming successful.

Unfortunately, literature has shown that while this 10,000-hour rule may be right for musicians and chess grandmasters, it does not apply to athletes. In fact, long-term athletic development was never originally supposed to be modeled by the 10,000-hour rule. Instead what long term athletic development points out is that each athlete goes through a maturation process and during this maturation process “windows of opportunity” open up. The theory is that these windows of opportunity are the moments of the athlete's physiological age where certain qualities will be optimally trained. For instance, according to this model strength training will be most beneficial for male athletes around the age of 16 (Ford et al., 2011). 

However, such a model falls short because quite frankly not everyone’s body matures the same. Take, for instance, NBA legend Scottie Pippen; he was 6’1” when he was 19 and the next thing you know he turns 20 and is 6’8”. Suffice to say, his window of opportunity for various qualities happened a little bit later in life. 

Bottom line, regardless of what you subscribe to, 10,000 hours or long term athletic development, it is important to heed the adage “you cannot fit a square peg in a round hole.” Each athlete is different, both in their physical maturation but also in their personality. Research has shown that a majority of athletes are best developed when exposed to a variety of stimulations such as sports, training qualities, etc. Exposing an athlete to these qualities is what we like to call in the business general physical preparation, the foundation of long-term athletic development. 


Ford, P., Croix, M. D. S., Lloyd, R., Meyers, R., Mousavi, M., Oliver, J., . . .  Williams, C. (2011). The long-term athlete development model: Physiological evidence and application. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29(4), 389-402.