10,000 hours of practice, really !!!

Fri Jun 14, 2013 by Dave Phillips

Last week in New York City was the Leaders in Performance Conference.  It brought together hundreds of Coaches, Players, General Managers and Performance Experts from around the world.  One of the topics that came up was the 10,000-hour rule popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.  The rule essentially says that in order to become an expert in any field, you need to work for at least 10,000 hours at that endeavor.  In many ways, it has created a culture of hour counting coaches and some international sports federations have actually built their programs around it.  However, the consensus at the conference was that it doesn't really work. 

Most elite level golfers will tell you it it takes closer to 20,000 hours until you reach a level of competence to be considered elite in golf.  Tiger Woods started golf when he was 3, won his first professional event at the age of 21, and honed his skills for 18 years before reaching the elite level in his sport.  Most coaches would agree that there is no one road map to success. Focused and deliberate practice, not just hours of mindless practice clocking in and out as if you're working on an assembly line, is the key factor to success.

Many golf coaches today specialize in creating practice programs that are highly engaging and challenging that prepare students to play.  If you look on the PGA Tour today, many players don’t show up for practice rounds early like they used to. If they do, they may play just nine holes.  This was simply not the case years ago.

That being said, it's not just about specialized practice programs either.  Just like at business meetings or seminars, much of the learning is done after hours at receptions and dinners.  Real learning often occurs when you're fooling around, mimicking your idols, inventing games, competing, experimenting, and when you're having fun.

Three things that will help you get better at whatever your passion is:

  1. Focus on one specific thing to work on during practice.
  2. Make sure you are intense and not easily disturbed.
  3. Get plenty of rest and practice only when you’re alert and fresh.

“I’m not out there sweating for three hours every day just to find out what it feels like to sweat.”
–Michael Jordan

If you’re interested in finding a coach to help you with defining your practice, check out our TPI Certified Experts section. 


  • Marc Huddlestan

    Interesting to think about 20000 hours of practice for the golfer. I'd buy that considering average age of first years players on the PGA is close to 30 and most peak in their late 30's. A decade later than most sports.

  • Anonymous User

    Couldn't agree more. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle talked often about deliberate practice. The more we're forced outside of our comfort zone, the more active your brain function. I've taken this approach to my golf game recently and have seen great results, both in the quality of my play and my enjoyment of the game. Thanks for the article Dave!

  • Anonymous User

    Great article Dave. The purpose of Gladwell's book was to present OBSERVATIONS. The 10,000 hour rule never came from someone actually counting the hours! Gladwell didn't define it that way and it didn't apply just to sports.

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