Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Sports Gene

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I have referenced Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule” a few times in the context of the study of expertise. The idea is that to become an expert at anything you need to apply yourself to it for at least 10,000 hours.

Well, a book by Sports Illustrator writer David Epstein argues that the formula is more complicated than that. The Sports Gene is the result of Epstein’s curiosity about why Jamaican and Kenyan runners at track events were more exceptional, and why the same training regime resulted in different types of runners.

What Epstein found is that biology does play a major role in the amount of success an athlete will have in a particular sport. Meaning that given your biological make-up, you might be better suited for football than running or gymnastic than swimming. This is common sense. It takes a particular build and force to be a rugby player. You won’t find the same physique running across the field in an English Premiere League final.

Epstein makes clear that a one-size-fits-all approach to training won’t result in everyone achieving at the same level of success, because people require different training plans depending on the biology and physiology. The “10,000-Hour Rule” is merely an average of differences. So while one person might master a skill quickly; it might take another person 20,000 hours to get it right.

“Some people’s alphabet soup – meaning their DNA – didn’t ‘spell runner,” quotes Epstein. And that’s true. It’s really about having a good knowledge of who we are, where we come from, and looking our strengths and weaknesses dead set in the eye. We are all individual. Different from each other, and one of the first steps to winning is having a deep appreciation for that.

Malcolm Gladwell has written what amounts to an appreciative rebuttal in the latest New Yorker, saying that the 10,000-hour rule applied to cognitively demanding fields that needed significant thought and in which there are no naturals, unlike those runners and dart-throwers.

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