It’s hard to believe, but it’s been nearly five years since the 10,000-Hour Rule went mainstream. Last week, as if to officially mark the anniversary, more than three hundred coaches, players, general managers, and talent-development experts from around the world gathered at the Leaders in Performance conference in New York. Among this crowd, you might expect to find people singing the praises of the 10,000-Hour Rule.
You’d be wrong.
A significant number disliked it, because they saw the rule creating a mindless culture of hour-counting. They saw sports federations building programs around the metric, using it as the sole measure of progress.
“It’s absolutely nuts,” the head of one nation’s soccer federation told me. “Coaches are tracking practice hours and the athletes are clocking in and out with time cards like they’re working on an assembly line. There’s no ownership, no creativity.”
The science behind the 10,000-Hour rule has been subject to debate, and rightly so, because talent is more complex than any one measure. For example, how do you calibrate the impact of Warren Buffett’s childhood paper route on his temperament and business skills? How do you count the hours the young Keith Richards spent listening to blues records and falling in love with them?
The real issue here, however, is that the the 10,000-Hour rule is not really about quantity. It’s about the power of sharp, focused, high-quality practice. It’s about the massive learning differences created by intense efforts within highly engaging practice environments. We see this in the habits of high-performing groups, many of whom build their skills through a combination of short, sharp sessions and lots of restorative rest.
For example, at La Masia, the training academy that has produced the majority of Barcelona’s world-beating soccer team, the schedule calls for organized training a mere 70 minutes per day — a figure that most U.S. travel soccer coaches would scoff at as being insufficient. But here’s the thing: it’s a world-class 70 minutes: a razor-sharp, full-tilt, meticulously planned session with far more content and engagement than any mundane, exhausting three-hour practice.
The other benefit of this approach is that it frees the learners to spend time on their own. Real learning doesn’t happen just through organized drills; most of it happens in the off hours, when you’re fooling around, inventing games, competing, experimenting, mimicking, grappling with problems and inventing solutions. When you’re wholly engaged in the art of simple, intense play.
So perhaps a solution is to ignore the 10,000-Hour Rule and instead embrace the 10-Minute Rule. Which has three elements:
- 1) Focus: pick out a target skill — a single chunk you want to work on.
- 2) Super-high intensity
- 3) Rest: only do it when you’re fresh. If you’re exhausted, quit.
In other words: don’t approach practice like a factory worker logging hours. Instead, think like an opportunist. Be an entrepreneur.