I am currently reading a book called “Mastery” by Robert Greene and I highly recommend it for anyone, young and old. It has inspired me to look at my own life currently and decide what I am truly passionate about and pursue that calling more fully. The other thing that struck me as I read this book, was that I already experientially knew everything about Greene’s theory of Mastery through my participation in sports for my entire life. All of this made me realize that perhaps the greatest lesson that participation in sports teaches our youth is the practice or art of mastery.
10,000 Hours to Mastery
As has been cited by many people, mastery at anything takes 10,000 hours of practice. Greene writes, “Although it might seem that the time necessary to master the requisite skills and attain a level of expertise would depend on the field and your own talent level, those who have researched the subject repeatedly come up with the number of 10,000 hours.” If you break down that amount of time for a young athlete, it can seem quite daunting. Especially now with the presence of early recruiting (don’t even get me started), young athletes basically have ten years to approach some level of mastery at their sport if they begin at five years old! To get to 10,000 hours in those ten years, an athlete would have to put in about three hours of work per day.
This is why I am always taken aback by all the focus and attention on what camps to go to, what teams and what coaches to play for, the gear, the flash…none of this matters if you want to be a great athlete. The only thing that matters is that you put those three hours in per day to practice and refine your skills and sport. When you are in-season, you can count an hour or two of practice with your team, but then you better be putting in an extra hour of individual work around your sport or training to develop as an athlete. In the off-season, you need to continue to work on your own for those three hours per day, despite the fact that your team may not be practicing.
How do I get all those hours in?
The greatest advantage that I had growing up with a college coach as a father was that lacrosse became an ingrained part of my life. After school and my own sports practice was over, I would then go to his team’s practice or game at Princeton. I would spend an hour playing wall-ball or an hour watching his team or an hour getting a lift or run in, and then probably another hour talking lacrosse with my dad. Lacrosse was simply a major aspect of my life on a daily basis, and I loved every minute of it.
So, if you want to become great at your sport, everyday should involve some combination of the following practices (and some sports may differ along these lines): (1) an hour or two of practice or game with your own team, (2) an hour of individual work (e.g., shooting hoops on your own for basketball, stick handling in your driveway for hockey, wall ball for lacrosse, etc.), (3) an hour of watching high level players at your sport (e.g., watching a game on television or YouTube, going and watching a local pro or college team practice, watching an instructional video), and (4) an hour of training in the weight room or track to develop your strength, size, speed, quickness, and agility.
But, aren’t we pushing our kids too hard? Will they get burnt out?
Please notice that this blog is not really directed at parents or coaches, as I would never demand this of any child or suggest that anyone do so. I am writing this to the young athlete that absolutely loves his sport and wants to practice the art of mastery within that sport. If a child just wants to play a sport recreationally and has other greater interests, that is totally fine too!
However, if you want to become excellent at something, you have to make it a big of a part of your life. Don’t just do it to become a DI recruit, All-American, or MLL player. Those goals alone will not provide you with the adequate motivation to do all of that work. Also, you will be sadly disappointed with the fleeting amount of happiness that an accomplishment like that brings.
Simply play or practice your sport because you absolutely love it! This is what Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the famous researcher on “flow”, refers to as an autotelic experience — something that we do just for the sake of doing it. Your love of the game is the only thing that will carry you through all the hard times and obstacles that you will need to get through. This will give you the motivation to spend at least three hours per day devoted to your craft.
This is what happiness and success is all about! Find something that you love and do it every day, for no other reason than that. The accomplishments may come, but even if they do not, you still will have enjoyed the process. And when you are done, (and old, sore, and concussed like I am), then you can move on to your next passion and challenge and practice that every day.
Life is too short. We have to fill it with what we love to do. For you young athletes, if your sport is what you love, then practice it and improve your craft everyday. Down the road, you will find mastery in that sport and there is no greater gift that you can give yourself. You will be able to compete at your highest potential, play with ease, and find flow in the sport that you love the most. And the lessons that you learn along the way will equip you for success in the rest of your life.
So, go get those three hours in today, whichever way possible, and practice the art of mastery…but, only if you love it. If not, go find something else…and practice the art of mastery.