The 10,000 hours’ myth in football practice.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outlier: The story of success, he states that, “it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.” Gladwell’s statement is based on research done by Professor Anders Ericsson.

In Uganda, coaches and players have practised this theory but struggle to perform with consistency at a high level.

The 10,000 hours’ practice research was performed on a violinist but, playing a violin and football are very different activities.

Football is a multi-directional sport that requires a lot more than executing football skills to perform very well.

During a football match, football skills are executed under physical, tactical, and mental challenges concerning; the ball, the space, the teammate, the opponent, the state of play, and the area of the pitch.

These challenges differ according to the quality of opponents and teammates.

Quality opponents limit time while quality teammates demand urgency and accuracy.

For example; travelling with the ball is; dribbling and/or running with the ball.

Dribbling is moving with the ball while keeping it close to the foot and is usually applied after determining that a player needs to create space to move the ball, requires support or protect the ball from the opponent, however, this has to be in the area of the pitch that limits the risk of losing possession and the state of play.

“Practice makes permanent but proper practice makes perfect.”

10,000 hours of practising football skills will not count if the practice isn’t executed properly, not deliberate, and lacks the quality to be football-specific.

Football skills are poorly practiced in isolation without considering the physical, tactical, and mental demands that affect their application.

Practicing dribbling through markers might lead to players struggling to travel with the ball because, during a football match, travelling with the ball will require;

1. Physical demands like agility involve the flexibility of the ankle joint, footwork speed, balance, acceleration, deceleration, and body feints.

2. Tactical demands like deciding when to dribble or run with the ball.

3. Mental demands like the confidence to be aggressive with executing the skill and to avoid arrogance when the skill is executed properly.

The proper football-specific practice to perfect travelling with the ball should include the tactical, physical, and mental demands then progressing the practice to increase the challenge.

Ask the following questions;

What is the current ability of the player?

How can we measure progress?

How do we know that a skill has been mastered?

Do we challenge space and time during practice?

Does the practice place players in unfavourable conditions?

Having to use the weak foot?

There are creative ways that make football practice to have challenges that would enable players to master football skills that serve the purpose of football.

Depending on the stage of football development, it’s important to design deliberate football-specific practice sessions that challenge the player’s comfort zone and to emphasize competing against themselves.

That’s when it will be possible to realize the benefits of the 10,000 hours to perfection in football.


7 thoughts on “The 10,000 hours’ myth in football practice.

  1. Pingback: Football talent is overrated. | Ben Mwesigwa

  2. The article is well thought out and it highlights issues that matter to the player.
    My addition is that players need to also understand that they are the masters of their destination.
    I have observed that players do come to the pitch and only wait for instructions from the coach instead of practicing a pass, a nutmeg etc which they might have seen somewhere.
    I learnt how to chest a ball by picking small stones and throwing them in the air. Within no time I had learnt how to adjust the chest.
    Back in the day when a team was trailing, all eyes would be on a certain player but of late if the team is trailing all eyes are on the coach for a miracle.

    In a nutshell, Ben your spot on in your submissions and players need to pick a role model to imitate. Ben, you are known to some as Gerald simply because you were playing it like Steven Gerald.


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