Will more practice help your kids improve?

Image courtesy of ALE PAIVA

How to get good at something
So what does it take for your kids to become really, really, good at something? Well it seems the jury’s in.

10 years.

Are you for real?

Yep. This seems to be the length of time it takes to become an expert, in pretty much any activity.

If you slice this another way, it also seems that most experts put in about 20 hours a week at their endeavour, which works out to about 1,000 hours a year, and so 10,000 hours to become an expert.

10 years. 10,000 hours. Ok, so my chess has a ways to go then…

Note: This is good stuff, but long. What I’ve done is broken it into a couple of bits, but will post these each day so as to keep it fresh for you. Ask any questions in the meantime.

10,000 hours, and some other things

Again and again the number comes up as the benchmark for what it takes to be an expert. In OutliersMalcolm Gladwell(not an affiliate link) suggests that in the special cases where we think there’s genuine inborn talent, there are circumstances that heavily favored the participant, gave them more opportunity than others, and helped them clock up hours faster than their peers. His is one of a number of books promoting the same markers.

And even in those seemingly extraordinary cases where the coincidence of the planets and whatever other mystical things need to happen for greatness, happens, behind it there are still the same, standard, mundane factors.

When, at a young age, the preposterous ability of Mozart was revealed, well, even there, it’s shown that by a young age he’d already clocked up thousands of hours, and this in a child’s brain hungry for stimulation and being shaped by music as fast as he could grow.

Which by implication naturally means that if we give our kids the same opportunities, they could be Mozart. Right? Is hard work enough to make us an expert?

Let’s think it through.

But there are some exceptions…

Although I might get to the 10,000 hours, and it might have improved my basketball out of sight, I’m still pretty sure that, at least to my untrained eye, it’s useful in basketball to be tall. True.

Unless your name is Spud Webb. Which mine isn’t.

So in a game that favors tall people over people of my more modest height, more practice might not be a significant advantage.

Same goes for a couple of other regimes in which body size or shape are particularly suited to outstanding performance.

And there’s this too…

If 10,000 hours over 10 years is a marker, then maybe, if expertise is my intent, I’m better to look for a pool of ability that’s really small. That way, I could be in expert in only, say, 3,000, or maybe 5,000 hours. Or fewer.

Pick something odd, arcane, new. Work hard, be an expert early.

And if you argue this way, well you could also argue the other way, that if there are huge numbers of people putting in thousands of hours, then I might need to put in 20,000 hours to be an expert.

Like driving.

So how’s your driving?

I know of myself, and it’s perhaps true of you, that I’ve done more than 10,000 hours driving. I’ve been driving for more than 20 years now.

However, I would assert of myself, and maybe of you too, that my driving has improved little in the last 10 years, despite all my practising.

And, on top of that, I know that I’ve done more than 10,000 hours of handwriting. And in this case, in a shorter period through high school and then university, when taking notes in hours of lectures a week. Despite all of this practice, sadly, I’d have to say my handwriting is worse!

So what gives?

10 years. 10,000 hours. And a bit more too.

Now I’m picking a fight with the 10,000 rule to make a point, which is this. In and of itself, it’s too simple, but you probably knew that already. There must be more.

A couple of posts back we looked at the work of Carol Dweck, and how she showed us 6 little words that can make a huge difference to how our kids perform. It’s a fabulous experiment, and we looked at it in the context of attributions and the impact they have on us.

She talks of the mindsets that she saw, the fixed and the growth, and it was the growth mindset that we’re after.

But even this, fabulous though it was, won’t sustain any kid for even hundreds of hours, let alone thousands of hours. No. There has to be something else.

How do I get my kid to stay with violin so it’s more than just a passing whim? How do they get through the tough bits of soccer, or maths, or carpentry, when there seems to be a mountain of effort and so little payoff?

How do I get my kid to even start the work in the first place? Do I make them, thinking it will be good for them, they’ll thank me one day, and that’s that? How do I get them to try harder, for longer?


Secret sauce

It’s here that we have to get to the dark art of motivation. I say art because, although science brains have been researching this for decades, and there are theories of motivation to prove the effort, applying it in real life is still something of a mystery.

If you’ve heard of the theory-practice gap, you’ll know the sometimes yawning chasm that exists between ideas on paper and the messiness that real life adds.

The secret sauce is the right mindset, groomed in the right way, tested in the right practice, in the right environment, and fuelled by the power of motivation.

So here’s the take home bit

Will more practice help your kids improve. Yes. Will it make them experts? Not by itself.

But there are some certainties

  1. Practice is a must, but not enough – witness my driving
  2. The right kind of practice is crucial  – witness my handwriting
  3. Repeat, analyze, refine, repeat…
  4. A growth mindset is important, but must be re-energised
  5. Effort is a given. Theirs and yours.

And keeping the motivation up? Pivotal.

Impressive words to drop into the morning coffee chat

10,000 hours, Malcolm Gladwell

What do you think?

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About brendonbclark

Hi, I’m Brendon, but people usually call me B. I’ve a Masters degree in psychology, postgraduate qualification in mental health, and qualifications in counselling, professional supervision and adult education. I consult, speak and blog. Join me, you can subscribe for free.
This entry was posted in Children, General, Motivation, Neuroscience, Stress and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Will more practice help your kids improve?

  1. Pingback: Building better brains (Part 1 of 2) | Bite sized brains

  2. Pingback: Could you beat Bolt if you practiced for 10,000 hours? | Bite sized brains

  3. Pingback: Could you beat Bolt with 10,000 hours of practice? - Brain Fitness Institute

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