Sports Illustrated Senior Writer David Epstein has covered his fair share of athletes. So in his new book, The Sports Gene, he takes a look at what makes the great ones great and in an interview with Outside, he sheds some light on his findings. He starts by debunking the popular conclusions made by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers that all greats have 10,000 hours of practice:
The 10,000 hours is an average of differences. You could have two people in any endeavor and one person took 0 hours and another took 20,000 hours, which is something like what happened with two high jumpers I discuss in the book. One guy put in 20,000 and one put in 0, so there’s your average of 10,000 hours, but that tells you nothing about an individual.
Instead, he advises, there is no template for greatness:
No cookie-cutter training plan is ever going to work. I’m a great example. Before my senior year of high school, I got up to 85 miles per week of training, which isn’t a lot for a pro, but was a lot for someone my age. When I came to college, I really got interested in physiology and took a scientific approach to my training. I found I was better at cross-country by training 35 miles per week with hill intervals instead of doing 85 miles per week. People need to pay attention to their training plans, because if something is not working for you as well as the next guy, it may be your biology, so you should try another plan.
If you’re not taking a trial-and-error approach to training where you’re measuring something your time, you’re way less likely to find a plan that works for you. The cookie cutter approach to training is purely a facet of having a large group of people to train.
Read the entire interview with Epstein at Outside Magazine.