Should I start pushing my child down the path of expertise at age 5

10 Years and 10,000 Hours to Become an Expert, Should I Start Pushing My Child Down the Path of Expertise at Age 5?

You may have heard that it takes 10,000 hours and 10 years to become an expert in music, dance, sport, novel writing, and many endeavors. This comes from the research of K. Anders Ericsson(1). This finding has created misperceptions in the sporting community.

When sport parents and some coaches hear that an athlete needs 10 & 10,000 to become an expert they begin the process immediately. It is better to get those hours starting at age 5, so that at 15 my daughter is an expert volleyball player, correct?

Incorrect; most young athletes do not respond well to what Ericsson calls “deliberate practice”. This is repetitive, monotonous practice of working on your skills every day to become an expert. Deliberate practice is focused on working on skills that you are not necessarily performing well.

Young athletes are motivated by getting better, but also by fun activities that keep them engaged in movement. Making sport about training skills (especially ones they have not mastered) makes it feel like a job and much of the joy can be lost. Most importantly, when children are in the fun and fundamentals stage of development you want to facilitate their passion for sport. A focus on deliberate practice too early can thwart the passion for sport(2). I am not suggesting that deliberate practice is unnecessary, only that a focus on it too early can be detrimental to the motivation of the young athlete.

Another misperception of this 10 & 10,000 expertise principle is that parents decide it has to be all in one sport. Thus, the parents decide for the child to specialize in one sport and train 12 months per year. Big mistake – what we are learning is that many elite athletes actually play multiple sports through their adolescent years. Furthermore, many athletes that quit feel a lack of control over sport participation decisions as well as a feeling of wanting to do something else (3). This goes directly against a parent’s desire for a child to develop into an expert. Instead, the parent has been pushing the child to the point of leaving the sport.

The final misperception of Ericsson’s 10 and 10,000 finding is that every hour counts toward the 10,000. Wrong; athletes that are going through the motions because they need a break from training but aren’t getting it, feel entrapped in their sport and not allowed to leave, or are just bored and not having fun are not ticking the counter. To become an expert the athlete must be engaged in quality practice where development goals exist, there is attention to the execution of the skills, the athlete is providing herself feedback and adapting, and a competent coach is overseeing the process and facilitating development.

Do not assume that just because your child goes to the gym that he is one hour closer to become an expert. The decisions on sport participation and how they are made influence greatly if a child will be intrinsically motivated to engage in deliberate practice when the time is appropriate (see the long term athlete development model for more information at

Common Belief: Youth athletes should immediately engage in the deliberate practice needed to reach 10 years and 10,000 hours and thus enhance their chances of becoming an expert.

Science says… That rushing an athlete in to deliberate practice may lead to the child leaving the sport prior to becoming an expert, or sometime after. Children can wait until they develop a passion for the sport and reach the train to train stage to intensify their sport participation.

  1. Ericsson, K.A. (July-August, 2007). Making of an expert. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved at
  2. Cote, J., Baker, J., & Abernethy, B. (2003). From play to practice. In Expert Performance in Sport, J. Starkes & K. Anders Ericsson (Eds).  Human Kinetics: Champaign, IL.
  3. Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2011). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (5th Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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