In any sport, coaches talk about it all the time. “Practice how you play, practice makes perfect, to become a master at something, you must practice 10,000 hours at it.” But is that always the case? To the contrary, a recent study said the opposite. A Case Western Reserve University study claims that practice only accounts for 1 percent difference in individual performance and even that starting sports at an earlier age does not necessarily equal success in the sport, contrary to the belief of many soccer moms and obsessive parents across the United States. So how were scientists able to come to this conclusion?
According to the study, the researchers were able to reach this conclusion based on analysis of 52 different data sets looking at how practice translates to performance. While this study would be monumental if true, it seems a bit unrealistic at first. And even if it were proved correct, would it change the culture around youth sports in the US? There is no doubt that many parents would still continue to push their children to be the best at their respective sports, having them “specialize” in a specific sport and pressuring them into joining AAU teams and practicing 7 days a week, year-round.
In general, the study estimated that only 18% of why athletes preform better than others is due to practice. The other 82% can apparently be attributed to other reasons that were not specified. Brooke Macnamara was the lead author of the study and she spoke about a limitation of the study. “The concept of 10,000 hours taps into the American ideal of hard work and dedication leading naturally to excellence. But it does not account for the inherent differences across people and across sports.” So where do these differences come from? According to ScienceAlert, it could come from various intellectual, psychological and genetic factors like muscle mass and memory capacity.
The second main idea from the study was the finding that beginning to play sports at a younger age does not necessarily have an impact on being a higher-skilled athlete further down the road. The findings do contradict prior research by others in the field that say starting sports at a younger age does help athletes. The argument from the CWRU study stated that the mantra of starting youth sports earlier can lead to a burnout as parents are unsure of whether their child even likes the sport. So is there a way to determine whether any of these findings have basis?
The main limitation of Macnamara’s study and the field as a whole is the absence of a mechanism to measure the accuracy of any findings. While parents who are sport-obsessed and want their kids practicing constantly might be unethical, they could still be making the right decisions if they want their child to become an elite athlete in a given sport. While Macnamara thinks that more effort could be put into this research, she admits that there will never be complete certainty as to predicting the future of an athlete, whether it spells failure or success.
Hrala, Josh. “Sorry Guys, Practice Alone Won’t Make You Good at Sports.” ScienceAlert. ScienceAlert, 17 June 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
“Sports Practice Accounts for Just One Percent of the Performance Differences among Elite Athletes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.