The 10,000 hours’ myth in football.

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.

Football coaches and players that have read about this theory have gone on to practice for as many hours as possible in the hope of perfecting football skills.

Unfortunately for most of them, that practice never gets to be seen on the pitch while playing football, the next thing is to quit practice.

What the quitters don’t know, the 10,000 hours’ rule research was performed on a violinist.

I am not disputing the research, I agree 100% that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice would help to master any skill but Violin and football are totally different activities.

I am one of those football coaches that encourages players to practice and believe that it’s the best way to master a skill.

Football has fundamental skills that are categorized into; releasing the ball, travelling with the ball and, gathering the ball.

Mastering all football skills is extremely important for all football players but mastering a football skill is just the beginning of how to play football.

Football has factors that affect performance, mastering a football skill is a good foundation but just a fraction of football performance.

There’s a saying in football coaching that, “the game is the best teacher”. This’ because the game of football presents the player with real problems they must solve on their own.

A player in a football match faces challenges of the ball, space, team mates, opponents, state of play and area of the pitch. This process usually comes with a lot of mistakes especially in the development stage.

Challenges keep increasing with the quality of opponents and teammates.

Quality opponents will not give you a lot of space and time to use the ball while quality teammates will need you to use the ball in the shortest possible time whatever space is available for you.

A player that has practiced and mastered how to receive the ball will find different conditions in a football match.

Its in the match that a player gets to experience how to correctly apply the skill of receiving the ball in relation to the ball, space, team mate and opponent.

All football skills have to be executed with speed rarely compromising on accuracy.

“practice makes permanent but proper practice makes perfect”.

10,000 hours of practice will not help if the practice isn’t executed properly neither will it help if the practice lacks quality to be deliberate.

A lot of times players practice how to pass and receive the ball without being on toes, not making eye contact, without looking over both sides of the shoulders, and standing foot not planted properly to have toes pointing in the direction of the target.

Yet in a football match, being on toes helps to react faster, making eye contact helps to know how the recipient prefers the pass, looking over both sides of the shoulders before receiving the ball helps the recipient to be aware of the ball, space, team mate and opponent then planting the standing foot to have toes pointing in the direction of the pass helps to achieve accuracy.

Let’s go back to the part of a football coach and player that commit to practicing.

Do they place measures in place to know the current ability of the player?

Do they measure progress?

When do they know a skill has been mastered?

Do they apply the element challenging space and time during practice?

Does football practice place players in unfavorable challenges like poor officiating?

Playing less than opponents, chasing the desired score?

Having to use the weak foot?

There are many ways a creative coach would work with a player to make football practice have challenges of the ball, space, team mate, opponent, state of play and area of the pitch so that practice can easily be transferred to a real match.

Depending on the level of players a coach is working with, it’s important to make the challenges harder than what the player will face during the match, this will greatly help them arrive in the match with confidence.

In the 2015-16 FUFA Juniors’ League (FJL), I was coaching Maroons Junior Team. In the build-up to the league, we worked on the players being able to build the ball from the back.

Three matches into the league, players were struggling and lacked the confidence to play out from the back.

After that observation, we worked on them having to build up from the back by playing 6 against 8 in an area half the size of a pitch.

This increased challenge of having to play against 8 opponents was extremely helpful to the goalkeepers because every back pass had three opponents rushing in from different angles.

The idea was in a real match, only two opponents will most likely be rushing towards the goalkeepers.

By the end of the season, the team had greatly improved their ability to play out from the back.

The goalkeepers were starting to find one opponent rushing to them as normal.

Now we know that proper practicing for 10,000 hours helps to master a football skill.

We know that practice has to be deliberate and with quality.

We know that it’s a myth to expect the practice to get a player instant results on the pitch.

We know that learning and mastering a football skill is the beginning of playing football because football performance has other factors.

We know that the game is the best teacher because it presents the players with real problems they have to solve on their own.

We know that doing the wrong practice will keep a player and coach at the same level without progress.

We know that coaches need to have an excellent ability to observe and identify the challenges players face during matches so that they can set up a practice that will help the players.

We also know that you have arrived at the end of this blog, thank you for reading.

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

  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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