Thursday, August 1, 2013

you can't teach speed?

Someone tweeted me this study and I thought I'd share it here.

The point that they are promoting is that good sprinters are born that way.  Those who are elite do not achieve that through working hard and hitting the 10,000 hours of practice that seems to have been accepted as the key to achieving elite status.  Sure practice helps, but in reality the true elite are perhaps elite before they really start to practice?

I don't think this totally invalidates the idea of developing exceptional ability through practice, at least where that is based on skill.  However perhaps it emphasises that it is worth pickin your field of endeavour to focus on one for which you are ....... gifted.

Abstract:      Most scientists agree that expertise requires both innate talent and proper training. Nevertheless, the highly influential deliberate practice model (DPM) of expertise holds that either talent does not exist, or that its contribution to performance differences is negligible. It predicts that initial performance will be unrelated to achieving expertise and that a long period of deliberate practice — at least 10 years or 10,000 hours — is necessary and sufficient for achieving expertise. We tested these predictions in the domain of sprinting. Study 1 reviewed the biographies of 15 Olympic sprint champions. Study 2 reviewed the biographies of the 20 fastest male sprinters in U.S. history. In all documented cases, sprinters were exceptional prior to or coincident with their initiation of formal training. Furthermore, most reached world class status rapidly (Study 1 median = 3 years; Study 2 median = 7.5). Study 3 surveyed U.S. national collegiate championships qualifiers in sprints and throws. Sprinters recalled being faster as youths than did throwers, whereas throwers recalled greater strength and overhand throwing ability. Sprinters’ best performances in their first season of high school, generally the onset of formal training, were consistently faster than 95-99% of their peers. Collectively, these results falsify the DPM for sprinting. Because speed is foundational for many sports, they challenge the DPM generally.


Stuart Gilbert said...

After recent revelations,being the latest in a long line of similar "scandals", the sad thing is we might never know who the most truly talented sprinters are, as drug use further muddies the waters. Has anyone truly had the natural talent, coupled with the training to dip under ten seconds for one hundred metres, without chemical assistance. Unfortunately the climate that surrounds athletics in the modern era, makes people adopt a large dose of cynicism, and wonder if that is truly possible.
In regards to another area, but in a similar vein, this piece reminds me of what Stuart McRobert always used to preach about the role of genetics in bodybuilding, and before him the likes of Arthur Jones. Yet young men, year on year, refuse to believe that they have not got what it takes to be a "Mass Monster", which in turn makes them easy prey for the marketeers, who will feed them with the lies that promise their dreams are only at the end of a specially designed training routine and at the bottom of a tub of designer supplement X. I used to be like that. Fortunately, I never got into the supplement game too heavily, but the amount of money I wasted on various muscle literature, trying to find the magic bullet. Sigh. If only I could go back knowing what I know now and speak to the younger me. How much time money and frustration I would have saved myself.

Anonymous said...

All I know is never bet on the white guy.

Aileen said...

With DNA analysis they can now identify if you have certain gene sequences that at the very least predispose to you certain types of training so I think this type of study is a bit outdated now.

Steven Sashen said...

Ask any sprinter if sprinters are born or made and every one (myself included) will say "BORN! But excellence is made."

When I read the 10,000 hour idea, I immediately wrote it off. No sprinter I know has ever put in 10,000 hours of actual training prior to peaking (during a given 3 hour workout, sprinters will usually do about 10-20 minutes of actual WORK... do the math on how many 10-20 minute days it takes to get to 10k hours). Ditto for gymnasts (my previous All-American sport).

I don't know one good sprinter who wasn't the fastest guy in their elementary school (I was), or Junior High School (I was). By high school, though, training (or the lack thereof) starts to become a factor.

Using myself as example... all the other sprinters had growth spurts. I stayed at 5'5". Our coach didn't know anything about sprinting... so, unable to match guys who were 6+" taller, I became a pole vaulter, long jumper and gymnast. Then after a 30 year break, I started sprinting again and became a Masters All-American with a modicum of training.

Lucas Moore said...

year on year, refute to accept as factual that they have not got what it takes to be a "Mass Monster", which in turn makes them very simple prey for the marketeers, who will feed them with the lies that pledge their aspirations are only at the end of a especially conceived educating widespread and at the groundwork of a tub of designer supplement X.

Tahitian Noni Juice

Stuart Gilbert said...

I also think that success in activities that are more skill centred is largely based on genetic factors and natural talent. Yes, practice at skill based activities is probably far more important a determining factor than in activities such as powerlifting and sprinting, however without the natural talent there in the first place, no amount of practice will bridge the gap. I remember watching a short piece on Phil "The Power" Taylor on Sky Sports, where he had been invited to do a bit of pistol shooting. Naturally he was very good at it, and an expert commented that he had the natural ability and attributes to be a great marksman with anything in his hand, pistol, rifle, bow and arrow or dart. I could practice on a snooker table for 12 hours a day for the next ten years, and still come nowhere near the ability of Ronnie O'Sullivan.
Just reading Clarence Bass' new book " Take Charge". In it he mirrors Stuart Phillip's assertions that some of us were just born to lift, some were born to run, and the rest of us lie somewhere in between. I do believe that as genetics are further researched, and more discoveries are made, we will realise that for every activity there are just some of us in this world that were born to do it. Like you say Chris it's just finding what you are best suited to. That's probably the hard part.

Aidan said...

I think the 10,000 hours rule is aimed at skill-based tasks, where the brain has a predominate role. Where brute physicality is called for, genetics (and drugs) plays a much larger role. Quite simply, the brain is far more elastic than the body.

CF said...

This doesn't take into account the fact that every time you run around the block with your friends, you are practicing sprinting. And that can be deliberate practice.

You don't have to have formal training to be practicing deliberately.

Going to a specific track practice with a coach is not the only way to practice sprinting. So, the 10,000 hour clock may be clicking much sooner.

Stuart Gilbert said...

CF....your example brings to mind the definition Dr Ken Leistner used with regards to strength training, versus the way that many utilize the weights. He stated that there was a clear distinction between proper strength TRAINING and merely DEMONSTRATING strength. Your example is clearly an example of demonstrating speed, not proper, speed practice. Don't forget that in your example they are running around the block, but all their slower friends are doing the same and STILL not becoming as fast. I'm still of the mind that this study goes a long way to highlighting what I've long believed, that for every activity there are those who were simply born to do it. Natural talent trumps practice and training every time, it is the combination of the two that makes champions however.

Asclepius said...


Stuart Gilbert said...

Asclepius....all this article reveals to me is that the position in the family may help develop certain personality traits, which may, in turn, help that individual develop the drive to maximize whatever talents they possess. The talent itself is already there, that is nature, but nurture factors and incidents when growing up may inspire the individual to train harder than his / her peers and even consider shortcuts to success. This is probably because success has become inextricably linked to their self worth, due to events and relationships in their own personal history.

Gaby - personal trainer toronto said...

Talent alone will not make a sprinter the fastest nor practice alone can. One needs to have talent and must practice to enhance the gift.

Stuart Gilbert said...

Gaby...I agree....but talent separates the top 1% from the rest of us.....practice separates the top 0.001% from that top 1%....( figures are just guessed at...please don't quote me on

tullochgorum said...

As an ex national-level sprinter - it's genes that determines whether you get into the top 20 worldwide, but smart training that determines who in that elite group make the major finals. Even a once-in-a-lifetime champion like Bolt has to train hard and smart, and can be beaten if he's a couple of percent off.

Same with the violin. Your potential to become an international virtuoso is pretty much clear by the time you are 10, but the ones that actually make it out of the elite pack are the ones who work smart and hard.

So it's a bit of both.

But in sprinting and violin, the idea that someone with average genetic gifts could make it to the top through hard work alone is risible.