The people you think are naturally good are actually just practicing
Posted by Dean Holden at April 13th, 2013
by Jeff Barnett, 19 March 2013
Do you know someone who is just naturally good at something? They just get it and it doesn’t seem to be difficult for them at all. They seemed to pick up the skill as soon as they started trying. Well, that’s completely ridiculous, and today science is helping dispel the myth that some people get something for nothing.
A recent study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined 520 Spanish volleyball players between twelve to sixteen years old. Each player recorded his hours spent training per week and then took a pop quiz. The test measured his knowledge of volleyball: dimensions of the court, responsibilities of each position, characteristics of the ball, and correct reactions to different in-game scenarios.
The results showed that players who practiced four hours per week or more were cognitive experts in their sport. Those who practiced more than seven hours per week had the most expertise. But the extra knowledge they gained by practicing more than seven hours weekly was negligible compared to those that practiced just four to six hours weekly. So more practice does seem to be better, but you can get the most bang for your buck through adequate practice. In this case, the sweet spot was between four to six hours of practice weekly.
This reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and the 10,000-hour rule. Gladwell claims that great success only results from a great time investment: 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. So when you look at someone perform a task effortlessly and think, “Geez, that is so difficult for me and it’s always been so easy for him.” No, you’re wrong. It really hasn’t always been easy for him. As a matter of fact, he had to screw it up for about 10,000 hours before he could demonstrate the flawless execution that now makes your jaw drop.
This rule is also applicable to training. Sure, the research study only measured mental expertise, but physical fitness is also the result of consistent and deliberate practice. If you’re training at the gym and you see a lady moving your one rep max for multiple reps, it’s not because she’s lucky. There is no fitness fairy that chose to sprinkle the magic pixie dust on her but not you. The difference is that she’s been busting her butt, every day, for years.
So put this idea to work in your training. We all struggle with something at the gym. In most cases, the solution is to do more deliberate practice. Get rid of the notion that some people are blessed with ability and some are not. You can achieve what you want, but it may take 10,000 hours to get it.
1. Gil Alexander, et. al. Analysis of the Relationship Between the Amount of Training and Cognitive Expertise. A Study of Young Volleyball Players. Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: March 2013. Volume 27. Issue 3. p698–702. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825d99c9
Jeff Barnett is a CrossFit affiliate owner, mechanical engineer, and former Marine. He holds specialty certifications as a CrossFit Mobility and Movement Trainer, CrossFit Olympic Lifting Trainer, and is a USA Weightlifting Sports and Performance Coach. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and an MBA.
Jeff served as a Marine officer from 2003-2007 and deployed to Fallujah in 2006. After leaving the Marine Corps he co-founded CrossFit Impulse in 2009. His writing focuses on fitness, nutrition, and leadership. Jeff’s writing has appeared in publications as diverse as The New York Times and CrossFit Journal.
Jeff competed in the CrossFit Games Southeast Regionals in 2010 as an individual competitor and 2012 as a team competitor. If you don’t find him training hard or coaching athletes to PRs at CrossFit Impulse, then he’s probably wakeboarding, snowboarding, or eating meat off the bone.