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.

  • Point Taken

    when you question the answers, you dont need 10,000 hours.
    When you learn to think, you find the answers.
    Pioneers lead the way – We cannot have solutions when you think the same way that lead you to the problem.
    If you stop counting the hours and start questioning the answers , you will find yourself in a place where you did not expect yourself to be . Isnt that what you wanted ?
    Thank You

  • Your Blog Sucks

    Sorry, nobody ever got to be an expert on something with 0 hours of practice.

    • Sasha

      I think the message is more that there should be more importance placed on practicing in a way that fits your specific training needs, over just drilling the same drills for everyone over and over. Nowhere does he say to not practice at all.

    • And you're an idiot

      No one claims one is born an expert. Some people are simply genetically more primed for some things than others. You can practice 500000 hours, starting from today, as a long distance runner and you’ll never beat those Kenyans and Somalis at the Olympics. That’s a simple fact. People adamantly cling on to that 10000 hours nonsense because they want to fulfill a fantasy that if they just do something over and over for a long time, somehow they’ll be geniuses, but really this is no different from that age-old maxim, “practice, practice, practice”. Practice makes one better, that’s nothing new. The fascination with “Gladwell’s 10000” isn’t because proponents are arguing that practice improves skill – that’s not being contested. They’re gripe comes from a complex usually imbibed in “nurturists” where the exorbitant success of others makes them feel inadequate; and so the hype about 10000 hours is more of an emotional investment so we can sit on our asses and say “the only reason I’m not as fast as Usain Bolt is I haven’t put in my 10000 hours yet” – carefully neglecting the fact that in his youth, Bolt would wake up from sleep after a long day of fucking around and still win national championships. It’s an argument of inadequacy, not an observation of a reality.

  • Whacky UX

    You have such a stupid UX on your blog and you should be ashamed! If this is your definition of “modern” user experience, I say thanks but no. Fortunately, your domain name is easy to remember so next time I see your link on HN, I will skip ‘cos it’s not like you even have any content, jx a rehash of others’ work anyway.

    (someone pointed out the same thing and he/she was told was an idiot, please feel free to count me among those idiots who are honest to you)

    • Sasha

      Thanks for the input, it doesn’t go unnoticed. We’ve been aware of this bug and are working to fix!

  • Work hard

    The 10,000 hour principle is not a “cookie cutter” template. “Deliberate Focused Practice” is how one becomes great at something. You can accomplish a months work in one focused practice session. I am a coach and a teacher who applies this everyday to my students and my own life. DO THE WORK and see what happens.

  • Hannes Grebin

    could you pls revise your scrollbar. this is f****** overdesigned, was totally not obvious (found this grey thin stripe by accident) and not properly working. get the default back instead. thanks!

    • Facetious_iDouche

      Since it is a Behance property, I assume that the designers — along with EVERYONE who is ANYONE — haven’t used anything but the multitouch scrolling on their MacBook Pros since 2009.

      • Hannes Grebin

        Haha. excuses! — l’art pour l’art 😉 Actually this really sucks.
        (Good) design (always) follows function.
        I’m running everything on windows, since a mac is not capable of product design/construction programmes. Temporarily switched of Chrome’s ‘Scrollbar Anywhere’ but this is not an argument.

      • Sasha

        All of the 99U crew uses mouses, but then again, we’re not designers 🙂

    • Sasha

      Unfortunately for us, it’s not supposed to be a part of the design – it’s a bug we’ve been trying to fix!

      • Hannes Grebin

        ahh, here we go. thx sasha, never mind 🙂

      • Hannes Grebin

        Only as a note: The comment/quote indent line is somewhat only slightly darker. If you not used to the function you would not recognize the context sensitively appearing scrollbar. Make it just more obvious/comprehenisible.
        See here:

  • DnBrt

    I think this is all interesting debate, especially to see another side, but I don’t see this as a debunking of Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. For so many, the road of hard work has been replaced with short trips while riding the easy wave of readily-available information and tech to get there. Very few truly have the capacity to blaze new trails. Removing the work (such as the 10,000 Hour Rule) often breeds unappreciative amateurs (semi-dedicated pseudo professionals acting as creatives for style and social purposes, not for the craft).

    I think nothing can replace the long road of dedicated hard work, including understanding the history and make-up of a chosen craft – whether sport, art or personal interest.

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