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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Outliers. Have you gotten your 10,000 hours in?

Two posts ago, I remarked that it was a bit shocking that not many coaches actively scoop-up post-college athletes. In other words, we, in the US, tend to be hyper focused on discovering the next Suleymonglu at the age of 12; to the point, that taking on an athlete over the age of 17 or even 20 seemed to be a waste of time.

So, interestingly, I was on a business trip to Canada (not shoes, my real job), and upon watching some CBC, I came across a review of the book "Outliers", fascinated by its propositions on successful athletes, I started reading it.

In a nutshell...

In order to be an extraordinarily successful athlete, you need opportunity and 10,000 hours--or 10 years- of serious practice. In other words, no one is a success on their own. Not even the most physically gifted people can wake-up, one day, and just clean and jerk triple their bodyweight.

Even more importantly, factual case studies show that one only needs a minimal level of talent to become, say, Olympic Champion. What makes one greater than competitors is the amount of additional work and practice you have had. In sports, music, business, or academia, their are thousands, millions of talented people; the difference between mediocre, good, and great is the great people had unique opportunities that allowed them to put in the 10,000 hours to be the best.

How this relates to lifting

When it comes to "talent identification" it is more important that our lifters are able to put in the thousands of hours of work to be successful. Per Popov's comments in Bulgaria --- all you need to be a good lifter is (1) the ability to do a full squat, (2) rack a bar in a clean, (3) ability to do an overhead squat--- the rest is a function of who has the opportunity and desire to put in the 10000 hours or roughly ten years of hard training.

Playing Devils advocate

Every once in while, there is a track athlete, that seemingly comes out of no where and wins a National weightlifting meet.
Is it because they are so much more talented and gifted than any lifter currently in the system ? No. It's probably because they are already elite athlete's in an explosive sport, having incorporated Olympic lifting movements as part of their normal training.

Samething with Junior lifters: Why are some early or late bloomers? Adolescents hit puberty at different points, and some children have been doing other sports since they were toddlers. Some have very sport-focused, supportive parents.

Overall, its accumulative advantage or disadvantage that adds-up overtime. It might not seem like such a big deal, but it is over an athlete's lifetime.

Conclusion
If we want to be a power, again, in weightlifting, the most important step is to set-up infrastructure where athletes can train consistently, and support athletes who, after given the opportunity to train, continue to put in the hour. Consistent, hard training is paramount above all other factors-- age, perceived talent, etc.

Hmmm, the above is exactly how the Colombian selection system works. Lifters who train hard and meet minimal qualifiers are rewarded, supported, and incentivized to keep training.

Horatio Alger, go home!

References:
Gladwell, Malcom. Outliers. 2008. Hatchette Book Group: New York, NY.

17 comments:

Barry said...

I read this book also Gwen, it is fascinating and it really does correlate to weightlifting, and most activities. With my spending between ten and twelve hours a week in the gym on average-- more when I am on school hoildays-- the 10, 000 hour rule is a bit of a pipe dream.

However, mindful practice and thinking outside the box can go a long way too, so maybe we have a chance!

Gwen Sisto said...

Well, the positive part is that training is cumulative. It will just take longer.

Anonymous said...

Errrrr, I disagree ; the reward system in america isnt in place; never has been , never will be. Go ask Norb about his years. All of the good OL prospects go into football, wrestling, some track .

Gwen Sisto said...

Exactly, I agree. Americans, on average, simply do not train enough. Without a reward system, weightlifting can seem like a thankless, brutal sport.

I contrast, there is some reward system in track - college scholarships, endorsements, and we fare much better in the Olympics, likewise.

Norb Schemansky is a weightlifting hero. Look at over how many years he lifted and how great he became. Easily he would have clocked over 10K hours. I think what you are bringing up is whether all the trainign was worth it as he did not get hefty rewards like swimmers or track stars...thats a different point

Anonymous said...

Americans have this conceit that if we're not good at something, it's because we don't want to or aren't trying to be. This sort of talk is very unsportsmanlike. I think America has cultivated a distorted view of itself ever since it reached a historical apex in the 1950's, a time when the rest of the world was still recovering from global war or else freeing itself from colonial bondage. Those times are fading fast, and in a world of almost 6,707 million people 304 million Americans can't expect to come out on top in every field of endeavor.

In the 1950's, the U.S. contributed roughly half the world's GDP; today, that percent has dropped below 30%. Weightlifting, unlike many other sports, doesn't require a lot of money to train. America's top weightlifters do train hard, and our elite weightlifters throw up mind-boggling amounts of weight. Give credit where credit is due: the world's top elite weightlifters are both highly talented and highly trained.

Statistically speaking, Americans haven't been doing so badly at weightlifting in the Olympics. Since 2000, we've had one gold medalist (Tara Notts). So out of roughly 45 gold medals handed out since then, we've won one. If we had won one more gold, we would have had 2 golds out of 45 total gold medals, a ratio equivalent to our proportion of world population. Given these numbers, I seriously doubt that any program, short of Super Vitamin S, will significantly boost our chances of medaling in weightlifting at the Olympics.

Shaun said...

Great topic Gwen!

Gwen wrote: "Even more importantly, factual case studies show that one only needs a minimal level of talent"

The way you have written this, Gwen, it would seem that you are saying that only a small amount of talent is necessary.

The author of the book was actually arguing that one only has to be "good enough" - and I suspect that talent threshold is not commonly met by the average person.

porkus said...

Gwen,
You are spot on right.

Great points that many of us don't think about when we wondered how Bill Gates became Bill Gates.

See you down the road.

Mark

Saij said...

Great post Gwen,

I am a weightlifting coach in Portland, Oregon. My club is only 3 years old, but I've got a number of great lifters. NONE of them are under 20 years old. 2 are over 40, I'm in my 30's, and some of my toughest are in their late 20's.

I agree that many coaches obsess about youth. Well ... we aren't going to get a bunch of kids in weightlifting the way gymnastics does. I'm not convinced that will ever happen. And personally, I don't care.

Like you said, put in 10 solid years of lifting, and you'll be a powerhouse. Maybe you won't be an Olympian, maybe you will. But, regardless, you'll be amazing.

If you start at 25, then at 35 you'll be remarkable. Age is important. But, it isn't THAT important. Maturity is the real issue, and older athletes have it.

Maturity causes you to stick to your training when it gets tough, when you're sick, when you're bored, when you want to give up. YOu made a commitment to the sport, and you're going to keep it. That's the kind of maturity a 12 year old doesn't have, but a 25 year old does.

Nick Horton,
www.TheIronSamurai.com

PS. I recently bought a pair of Risto shoes (Red), and I LOVE them. Been wearing them for about 4 months now, and I've competed in them twice. I can't praise them enough.

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