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Does it take 10,000 hours to become an excellent swimmer?

American Lifeguard

A successful theory of excellent swimmer

10,000 hours is the time it would take to become an expert in any field, according to American Lifeguard, who relied in particular on studies carried out in the early 90s with violinists and pianists.

This figure seems pretty consistent for swimming. We know, for example, that excellent swimmer Rebecca Adlington totaled 8,840 hours of practice between her 12th year and her two Olympic titles obtained at age 19 over 400 and 800 meters freestyle. If we add his very young years of practice, which probably represents around 2000 hours, the count is there.

Behind this theory is obviously a philosophical message: no matter the talent, only work (long and hard of course) would be the key to success.

A condition is sometimes necessary but never sufficient.
This theory has been so successful that many studies have been carried out in different fields to verify it. They have in fact very often led to the opposite results.

A few years ago, a researcher from Atlanta, excellent swimmer Zachary Hambrick, showed that among the average level chess players, 13% had exceeded the practice time of the best players while others had reached an expert level in devoting only a fairly limited number of hours to their practice (probably very talented people and therefore very annoying!).

The studies on chess players are interesting because there is a world ranking which makes it possible to precisely locate all the players. However, whether in music, chess or sports, these studies show that practice time only counts up to 30% to determine the level of performance. It shows above all that we can, unfortunately, align the training hours without success.

Only perfect practice makes perfect

These studies, covering a wide variety of fields, can call into question the way in which learning is conceived. Generally, it is seen as a transmission from a master to a pupil. The latter receives the instructions, understands them and then tries to apply them. This learning method would be effective for beginners but insufficient for experienced practitioners. In their case, the setpoints come up against operating habits that are difficult to overcome. Only certain people would do it.

Today, interest in neuroscience leads us to take these automatisms more into account and, with regard to sports activities, to reconsider the role of the nervous system and muscles. We know in particular that the muscles constantly send information on their length, their tension, and their stretching speed. It is this information that allows us to locate the different parts of our body in space and to control our movements without looking at what we are doing.

The nervous system must process this data by relating it to information:

  • Visual: They tell us about our speed of movement.
  • Tactile: Feeling the pressure of the water in the hands can tell if the movement is effective, for example.
  • And those of the articular system which also give indications on the speed and direction of movement.

The amount of information received greatly exceeds what the nervous system is capable of consciously processing. It is impossible to take all this information into account at the same time. The swimmer considered gifted would be the one who knows how to direct his attention to the most relevant sensations and use this information to improve his technique. Conversely, an average excellent swimmer could miss some important information and not realize that he is not correctly positioned for example.

Don’t forget to read about, Know About The Mystical Art of Yoga Nidra

Some practical advice

To conclude, here are some ideas to start applying all of this.

  • First of all, be careful not to fall into the routine which leads to no longer paying attention to your feelings.
  • Routine practice can lead to practicing hundreds or even thousands of hours without progression.
  • During your sessions, always have a technical objective in mind, knowing the sensations to seek.
  • We must not be focused only on “what to do” but also on “what to feel”.
  • Adjust distances and rest times to give your nervous system time to focus on the right sensations. When you start to see a new technical point, swim short distances with sufficient rest times.
  • Practice educational exercises to more easily record the sensations to be found while swimming.

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