Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

The 10,000 Hour Rule!

Posted by admin February - 10 - 2010 - Wednesday

I want to continue to share some things that I’ve picked up from reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.  This point would be food for thought as your staff begins to meet this spring to hash out the controversial topic of” how long should we practice each day?!

Gladwell’s research was centered on Bill Gates and, yes, The Beatles!  The Mop Tops are from my generation and were one of my favorites (I even had the “modified” Beatles’ haircut… not long on the sides but the bangs hangin down to the middle of my forehead.  It looked pretty cool (to me anyway!!!)  With so many crewcuts and flat tops in 1964, I was pretty radical!!!

Anway… what Gladwell discovered about Gates and the Beatles was:  both spent countless hours perfecting their skills.  The Beatles traveled to Hamburg Germany on numerous occassions in the late 50’s and early 60’s to perform at clubs there.  What I did not know until reading Outliers was that these clubs they performed in stayed open all night.  And… they were expected to play all night— with little or no breaks!  That’s 8 to 10 hours a night for 7 to 14 nights in a row.  You’re going to get a LOT of playing time in! 

The same for Bill Gates… when he was first allowed computer terminal time while still a teenager.  Gates was allowed unlimited access to the computers at a local university where he grew up.  From the time he was in his teens till he was in college, he was in front of a computer terminal an incredibly large number of hours.  Gladwell researched it and figured out approximately how much time these 2 examples perfected their particular skill.  What he discovered is that “genius” is more of a “time on task” (practice) characteristic than a matter of innate intelligence.  Not that Gates isn’t brilliant; but, with the amount of time he had to perfect his skill with computers, he almost couldn’t help but be great with them.

Gladwell states that 10,000 hours of practice is the breakpoint that separates “genius” from just being “very good.”  These guys put in an extraordinary amount of time and it paid off!

My point to coaches is:  don’t short change your team.  Most of you probably look for ways to trim time from practice.  You use the reasoning that “kids will get bored” if we stay on the field too long.  Well, my response is:  go by their houses and calculate the amount of time they spend in fromt of their tv or computer screen playing Madden or Wii!!!  They don’t get bored there!!!  Why?  Because they are actively involved… not just standing around.

Which leads to the point of practice organization as much as how much time you spend on the field.  I believe, and I can back it up, that kids will spend 8 hours a day doing football as long as you keep them actively engaged and moving from one skill to another.  Our first week of practice when I coached was 3-4 hours… mostly because we couldn’t wear full pads until the 6th day of practice.  Once we went full pads, we went to Camp!  We started at 6:30 in the morning and went non-stop until 5 in the afternoon.  When we went away for Camp (instead of doing it at school), we went until 9 at night.  The kids were interested and never seemed tired.  In fact, we had a hard time getting them to go to bed at 10 pm.  They wanted to stay up and talk and laugh!!!  and that was after a 14 hour work day!

The most successful HS program in the state of Virginia is known for their long practices.  I’ve heard it said that they would practice for over 3 hours on Thursday… in full pads and going live part of the time!  I think this is too extreme… but they proved that it worked!  They’ve won about a ga-zillion state championships over the last 30 years!

I would encourage you to reassess your attitude towards practice time for your team.  You may never reach the “10,00 hour limit” but you can look to think about how you can get 20-30 more minutes in each day.  That’s 2 hours more a week.  Run your season out for 13-15 weeks and that’s almost 30 hours more practice time you got your kids during an entire season. 

It’s not the size of your playbook that produces a championship team… it’s the level of execution!!  You’ve heard the saying:  “practice makes perfect.”  I heartily disagree.  The only thing that makes “perfect” is perfect practice!!!  You can only approximate “genius” on the football field when you begin to approach that 10,000 hour mark.  Go for it!!!

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