A 12-year old and the 10,000 hour rule

What my youngest brother would say to Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell made the “10,000 Hour Rule” famous in his 2008 bestseller Outliers. The rule says that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master. It sounds nice, right? Put your kid in the microwave, press 10,000, and out comes Serena Williams, Michael Phelps, or Lebron James. But let’s be real — 10,000 hours is an arbitrary number. And there’s no microwave. It takes deliberate practice to master a skill.

Deliberate practice is a method termed by the world’s leading psychologist in human performance and expertise, K Anders Ericsson. But deliberate practice requires access to experts, self assessment tools, and some serious grit. All three of these things are hard to come by — especially for kids. And nowadays, the conventional logic is to send a kid off to practice or a personal trainer for an hour or two a week and play a game on the weekend. If you can afford it, that’s great. But that’s not deliberate practice. Mastery takes a more efficient and intelligent effort.

My brother Mikhail and me training and discussing the ideal experience from the eyes of a 12-year old.

Let’s rewind quickly, so I can explain how this started. I played basketball at UCLA and as a pro in Germany, France, Serbia, Slovenia, and Lebanon. I was fortunate to play ball, but I missed out on a lot of family time. It was tough to share my knowledge of the game and experiences with my youngest brother. He was 9 at the time and this was about more than just sport. It was about my role as big brother and teacher.

When I stopped playing, I started an MA program at Stanford and spent a lot of time designing transformative experiences with technology. Why not start with the best game in the world? So Mikhail and I set out to build a company, Boost. I’m the CEO, but our most important advisor is…a 12-year old. On the surface Boost is a mobile sports training game. The engine that makes it work is the 21st century version of deliberate practice. Here’s how we do it.

The Boost method of deliberate practice in the 21st Century.

Iknow many parents want their kids to earn scholarships and become pros. And that’s great. But for me, long term success is learning how to master a skill. It’s understanding and implementing deliberate practice. Do it in sport, and you can do it in life. We’re glad to be helping your young athlete.

We make deliberate practice fun. After all, sports are games.

Last piece of advice, make sure that your kid plays as much as possible. By play, I mean plays not just trains. Basketball is a game and kids should compete and have fun. When they do train — make sure that they implement the Boost model: structure, pro examples, self assessment, feedback, and motivation. Or else 10,000 hours is a just a very long time.

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Mustafa Abdul-Hamid | mustafa@get-boost.com

Much of this post was inspired by a great interview with Ericsson and Gladwell on Freakonomics and this article in Salon. The interview is definitely worth a listen if you have a moment.