I just finished reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Really an excellent book, I would recommend it to anyone. In it, he relates a study performed by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. They compared musicians trying to determine if there was such a thing as innate talent. What they found, was that the amateurs only practiced 3 hours a week, amounting to 2000 hours of practice. The professionals steadily increased their practice times until by the age of 20; they had reached 10,000 hours of practice. Gladwell compares Mozart, Bill Joy, Bobby Fischer, The Beatles, and Bill Gates and comes to some interesting conclusions at the end of the chapter.
"The striking think about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals", musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else, yet didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."
"The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours." (Gladwell, 2008, pp. 39-40)
"The emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert - in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn't address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery." (Levitin, 2006, p. 197)
Let's say a kid starts out playing Pop Warner at age 7 (just picking an age where kids might start being interested) and he practices for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week for 4 months a year until he hits 16. 9 years of Pop Warner equals about 1440 hours. Let's say he plays some flag football on the school ground and after school for 500 more hours. He might have played and practiced 2000 hours by high school.
Then he has 3 hours a day, 4 days a week, plus a 3 hour game on Friday for 3 months a year plus August two-a-days, 5 days a week to get ready for the season. By the end of high school, he will have added another 900 hours to that total. Possibly 2900 hours so far.
He goes to college, maybe on a scholarship, perhaps as a walk-on. He practices two weeks in August for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week, then 3 hours a day, 5 days a week September through the end of November, plus games on Saturday. Four years of college ball adds up to 1250 hours. Add in practices getting ready for bowl games, spring scrimmages and maybe up to 1300 hours. Give him the benefit of his own practices and maybe he might have 4000 hours by the end of college all together.
Your average football player still has a long way to go when he hits the NFL before he gets to 10,000 hours. Now perhaps those of you who have played Pop Warner (they don't have Pop Warner in Canada, we play hockey from the age of 3) and went on to college ball can let me know if those hours are about right. But even if we doubled them, he'd still be 2000 hours short.
So let's say you're Tim Tebow. From what I've read, he never played Pop Warner, joined up on the team the last 2 years of high school (played on a high school team, even though he was being home-schooled at the time) and then went to Florida for 4 years (or perhaps 5, but I don't think he redshirted). He needs practice time. He was not the starter last year and so wasn't getting first team reps until near the end of the year. He lost out this year on the OTAs and other workouts this spring and summer because of the lockout. Had a significantly shortened training camp and then has been dumped into 3rd string behind Brady Quinn, so has probably been playing with the 2nd and 3rd stringers on the scout team.
This is a guy who is waaay short of 10,000 hours. He needs some serious rep time, not only so that the front office can decide whether he is going to be "the man" or whether they need to draft a quarterback in the first or second round, but he needs practice time to assimilate things so that the drop backs, the accuracy, the throwing motion practice stuff all translated into muscle memory and becomes automatic come game time.
I have no idea whether John Elway, Xanders or John Fox or anyone in the front office ever reads these blogs, but I plead with them to give this kid a chance. Give him some practice hours; good ones not scout team garbage reps so that he can show what he was showing at Florida: a guy who like Montana, Elway, Young, Aikman or any of the other great quarterbacks, always digs deep when the chips were down and found a way to win. I think he's got it. But it has to be harnessed. Joe Montana had Bill Walsh to mold him into the Hall of Famer he became. John Elway had Mike Shanahan to teach him, Steve Young had Walsh and Shanahan to work on his accuracy, staying in the pocket, working on his throwing motion, working on his footwork and reading his checkdowns. Aikman had a fellow, can't remember his name, but the Cowboys hired him away from Walsh's staff in the late 80's to be Aikman's QB coach (all I remember is Mike Holmgren replaced him as QB coach for the 49ers). He needs the right mentorship, the right coach, and the quality reps under center to get better.
I read The Genius a few weeks ago, about Bill Walsh and how he reinvented the passing system and created what we call the West Coast Offence today. Another good book I would recommend. It was interesting to me how green and unpolished Joe Montana was when he came to the 49ers. They won that first Super Bowl almost in spite of him. He did great things when he had the ball (Hmmm kind of like someone else I saw play the other day), but he also had lots of interceptions and a lot of things that he and Walsh worked on to get better.
Look at the good quarterbacks right now: Tom Brady did some very good stuff in his second year when he replaced Drew Bledsoe and took his team to Belichek's first Super Bowl win with the Patriots. But he was still green and under 10,000 hours. He's passed that mark a long time ago and it shows. He's a much better QB today than he was when they won that first one.
Peyton Manning was 1-15 his first season. Didn't win a Super Bowl until 8 years in the NFL, and it was 5 years before they started having 12-win seasons back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Just a guess, but I'd say he probably hit the 10,000 hour mark about 2003 coinciding with 12-4 season.
Drew Brees was let go by San Diego just about the time he hit 10,000 and he has been fantastic in New Orleans ever since.
Aaron Rodgers mentored under Brett Favre for 3 years getting close to his 10,000 in practice time, then was OK his first two years then won a Super Bowl in 2010 and seems to be even better this year. When did they crank it up and win the big game? After his fifth year, and third year as a starter. 10,000 hours.
Ben Roethlisberger was on some great Steelers teams early on. They went 15-1 in his rookie season in 2004, lost the conference championship to the Patriots, went 11-5 the next year and won the Super Bowl in 2005. But I remember writers saying how badly Ben played, really the team won in spite of him. Then they have 2 sub-par years at 8-8 and 10-6 and are back to the Super Bowl in 2008. He played much better in this game. That's after 4 years in the NFL, I'll bet if you took the time to add up his practice and playing hours, you'd be over 10,000.
Has Kyle Orton had 10,000 hours? Assuredly he does. He is a journeyman quarterback and has a number of years as starter under his belt. Does 10,000 hours ensure greatness? No, that was made pretty clear in the book. 10,000 hours will get you most of the way there, but if don't have that spark, that intangible quality, the will to win, to just explode when the time comes, no amount of practice will compensate for that.
Does Tim Tebow have that? I think he does. We've seen it repeatedly in his games at Florida, again last season when he was making things happen on a very poor team, and again last Sunday. Will to win. That's what it's all about. He just needs some playing time now.