Monday, September 19, 2011

2011 Streak Day 231/365 (Friday19 Aug): Hours of Practice

2011 Streak Day 231/365 (Friday19 Aug): Distance 5 miles Time - 48min 50 Weather - sunny and quite warm, a big change after yesterday

Another run where I stopped on the dot, which shows not only that it was a bit of a struggle but also I am a bit dumb. Yesterday's hills were quite hard so I should have  eased back with a gentle recovery around the park. As it was my calves were tired and there was no zip.Tomorrow must be a rest day.
This got me thinking about Bounce, which I mentioned in the last post. Matthew Syed's thesis is that champions are made rather than born - it is not a matter of innate talent but of hard work. He follows the Malcolm Gladwell line that it takes 10,000 of practice.
My body is not capable of putting in those sort of hours. It needs time to recover or it breaks down. This suggests talent and genes have a say in the ability to put in the necessary hours. Those who have the innate ability and a suitable constitution can both, see the rewards and put in the hours. It is very difficult to stay dedicated if you are getting nothing back.
Yet initially the book seems very convincing. Good evidence is presented about the importance of practice and one is easily carried along by the advocacy. But as I read it I had the same uneasy feeling I had when reading Oliver James about the importance of parenting in forming a persons character and emotional stability - yes  it is important but is it sufficient to explain everything? I have always been amazed at the intellectual energy spent on a nature vs nurture debate that sees it as an either/or.  By all means argue about the percentage split but don't dismiss one or the other. It is exactly the same with talent vs practice.
As a key piece of evidence Syed cites the 1993 study by Ericsson (as does Gladwell) that looked at the hours of practice accumulated by the best, good, and less good violinists and showed that there was a distinct difference in the average hours of practice for each group. In other words the best practiced more. 
This article from The Science of Sport, which is a very considered response to Bounce, includes something rather surprising about the Ericsson study - although he showed the average practice times for the different grades of violinists  he did not show the variance, i.e. he did not show the standard deviation within each group. It is perfectly conceivable that there could be people from the less able groups putting in more hours than some in the more able group but not seeing the result. Conceivable but I do not know because the study withholds the information. 
When weight is be placed on a study you would hope it covered everything openly.  You would also hope it accorded with a broad range of other studies but as the Science in Sport article shows there is contra evidence.
Bottom line is that you can get a very long way by working hard but I still believe champions have something extra.
However that is not of much personal concern as I will never be a champion. I can only hope to do the best I can and be satisfied with that. 
That best includes the concept of rest and enjoyment. Hence my picture of someone, at ease, reading by the canal. A waterway for slow paced boats and slow paced runners.


KR said...

The nature-nurture argument ended for me many years ago while studying the ceiling effect in training. Claude Bouchard, who has used a twins model for much of his work, proposed a simple - and afterwards, obvious - solution. Statistically, it's called interaction. The impact of the two variables are not independent - they don't simply add up (e.g. 60/40) but are intertwined. A genetically gifted person who is never exposed to a sport or training will not express the gift in performance. Hard work can make up somewhat for a lack of "talent" but it can't compete with someone who has both. It's nature AND nurture and in varying proportions: propensity for high VO2 might get matched with a propensity for injury. Bouchard even proposed a genetic pattern to training response: early responders and late responders. And most studies don't go long enough to notice how late responders will do. When everything aligns you get elite performance.

So, you do your best with the cards you are dealt. The hard work will pay off, it just pays off better for some.

Highway Kind said...

Yes thats about it. It is a non debate.

It is so obviously about interaction.

It struck me reading Bounce that he was not making the distinction between necessary and sufficient.

Hard work is necessary but not sufficient