You Can’t Teach Speed: Sprinters Break 10-Year Rule

Phys Org, June 26, 2014

New research shows world-class sprinters are born, not created. Grand Valley State University researchers found that exceptional speed prior to formal training is a prerequisite for becoming a world-class sprinter. The findings are published in the online journal PeerJ.

The research, conducted by Michael Lombardo, professor of biology, and Robert Deaner, associate professor of psychology, shows that the developmental histories of elite sprinters contradict the popular deliberate practice model of expertise. According to this model, there is no such thing as innate talent. Instead, 10 years of deliberate practice (roughly 10,000 hours) are necessary and sufficient for anyone to become an expert in any field, including sports.

The researchers studied biographies of 26 world-class sprinters, including 15 Olympic gold medalists and the eight fastest men in U.S. history. The first major finding was that every expert sprinter, male or female, was recognized as exceptionally fast prior to beginning formal training. This contradicts the deliberate practice model, which assumes that initial performance and final performance in a domain will be unrelated. A second key finding was that, contrary to the 10-year rule, most sprinters achieved world class performances in less than five years, and more than half of the Olympic champions reached this level in three years or fewer.

In addition, Lombardo and Deaner surveyed 64 sprinters and throwers (i.e., shot put, javelin, discus) who qualified for the 2012 NCAA collegiate track and field outdoor championships. Sprinters recalled being faster as children, while throwers recalled greater strength and overhand throwing ability. Another key finding was that the collegiate sprinters’ best performances in their first season of high school competition, generally the beginning of formal training or deliberate practice, were consistently faster than 95-99 percent of their peers.


“Our results won’t come as a surprise to most biologists, sports scientists, or coaches–all of the previous data pointed to this conclusion,” said Deaner. “But our results are important because the deliberate practice model and its ’10-year rule’ remains enormously popular among many social scientists and intellectuals. Our results are clear-cut and should require no scientific training to understand. So we hope they will finally put an end to the debate.”


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  • Now, let’s apply the same sensible mentality to intelligence.

    • willbest

      Even a 70 IQ can be trained to do something useful if you didn’t piss away 20 years of their life trying to get them to do something they can’t.

      • r j p

        There was a black janitor in the building I used to work in, very nice guy, but I would be willing to bet he was 75 IQ at best. I might sound like a total racist, but he knew his place. He never bothered me when I smoked in the wrong place and I told him when the SEIU people came around to stay away from them.

  • JackKrak

    Why can’t a bulldog outrun a greyhound? I mean, they’re both dogs…..

    • alex

      Bulldog-Canines suffer from breedism, segregation, breedist Humane Society system, breedist dog laws, abuse from humans, etc.
      Breed is a social construct.
      Wolves kill other animals only because they live in poverty.

      • Einsatzgrenadier

        Social constructionism is philosophically self-refuting. Being able to determine what is socially constructed and what isn’t presupposes the existence of objective criteria that allow us to distinguish socially constructed phenomena from empirical phenomena. However, if everything is socially constructed, it follows that determining whether something is socially constructed or not is impossible. The whole position is absurd.

        • Berkeley Guy

          Exactly. Social reality is not separate from reality, since there is only one reality despite what dualists think.

          Besides, even if something or another was to be socially constructed, then we are merely describing the history of such a thing along with giving an account of the relevant linguistic entities (verbiage). There is no argument about such a socially constructed that does not bottom out into sentiments and what others want concerning that construction. So the arguments will always be reducable to “I don’t like whiteness because it increases the solidarity of Europeans which is bad for the goals of multiculturalism, etc.”

          I like what you did here. If someone wishes to deconstruct the concept of ‘whiteness,’ then they must presuppose that such a thing exists and only then can that person start to talk about what they wish, or want, or what their sentiments about whiteness are. But there can be no arguments that whiteness does not exist, since it must always be presupposed.

        • MBlanc46

          If everything is socially constructed, social construction must be socially constructed.

          • propagandaoftruth

            Social “scientists” are civilizational criminals in my opinion. Those who try to practice real science are destroyed in favor of Boasian/Marxist ideology. Nothing they “put out” impresses me anymore, except in that they have so utterly bamboozled everyone, including themselves.

          • MBlanc46

            I see enough of it to know that a great proportion of it is little more than propaganda.

          • Einsatzgrenadier

            Marxist-oriented academics and their followers love to say things like “There are no absolutes!” and “Everything is relative!”

            Whenever they make comments like this, I ask them whether they are making an absolute or a relative statement. If the statement is absolute, they end up affirming the existence of absolutes. If the statement is relative, then they have failed to rule out the possibility that absolutes exist, not to mention that such an injunction is without normative force by virtue of its relativity. This always leaves the cultural Marxist and PoMo critics dumbfounded.

            Relativism is as old as the dialogues of Plato. It was easily refuted then and it is easily refuted now.

          • MBlanc46

            The problem is, so is absolutism.

        • SFLBIB

          Social Constructionism sounds like another one of those attitudes of narrow-minded fanatics, who cannot imagine that anybody could be more reasonable or more clever than they themselves.

      • Anna Tree

        And of course greyhound have an advantage because of their greyhound privilege! LOL

        • Those long legs they have and the wiry, no-nonsense build, except for the large chest cavity housing what can only be an amazing set of lungs and heart are so unfair.

          Dog species are only a “social construct”.

    • Because white people

    • Oil Can Harry

      Dog breeds don’t exist; they’re a social consruct dreamed up by dead white males who wanted to divide and conquer the animal kingdom.

      Remember: great danes are completely identical to chihuahuas. Only mentally ill bigots think they look different.

      • r j p

        You killed me with that.

        After a biology lecture on birds of the Galapagos Islands I asked the professor why birds with different colored spots on their beek were considered to be different species, where as blacks and Whites are considered the same. I thought I was the only one left in the room. LMAO, There was a negro who came back because he forgot to get his “I am a bassetball player” proof of going to class slip signed.

  • M.Magog

    Same thing with artistic abilities. When it comes to producing representational art no amount of training nor practice can help people overcome their natural limitations. Those with natural ability will be able to produce good work without training, they learn by looking at the work of other good artists, they instantly understand what the artist was doing.
    For years we have been told that a person can be whatever they want to be. The truth is that people only want to be what they are naturally good at.

    • Usually Much Calmer

      Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.

      You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Totally with you. Totally.

      But for the youngsters out there promised an easy life I stress that practice has it’s place.

      Pablo Casals practiced the cello every day for several hours. He was asked about this by a reporter when he was in his 90’s. “I’m beginning to notice some improvement” was his reply. The man was a prodigy at 6 years old.

      You gotta struggle, youngsters, life is not a bowl of cherries. WE can’t afford to have you waste your talents on the bookface.

      • M.Magog

        Yes, a person who has natural abilities to be a sprinter can in fact ruin what he was given by bad living and not training. A person who does not have the natural abilities can ruin his life by training for something impossible to achieve. Practice does not create the ability, it just hones it.

    • PvtCharlieSlate

      For years I wrote software for a living. When I started it was called computer programming and that generally meant IBM mainframe. At that time programmers were people who had an interest in that work, enjoyed doing it, were fascinated with digging through code to find a problem and were also proud of the code they produced and really didn’t tolerate anyone messing with what they had created and put their names on. Where you learned programming was here, there and the other place and on the job. Since then it has become “a college major where you make a lot of money”. I’ve had to deal with these graduates. It was “we have to do this” or “fix that” or “change the other” and I would say “OK, figure out what to do and write the code” and be answered with a blank stare. The point is that you can take the courses and pass the tests and get your degree but, if you don’t have the ability to pick a pattern out of a mess, can’t logically follow a path through the code and (especially) can’t think creatively, you’ll never be more than mediocre.

  • Tarczan

    Speed in anyone can be improved, but not anyone can be world class just by practice.

  • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

    “The 10,000 hour rule,” as an environmental explanation for success, is a natural for the American publishing industry. Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success” took full advantage. It was a huge hit. From Wikipedia:

    “Outliers: The Story of Success is the third non-fiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell and published by Little, Brown and Company on November 18, 2008. In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. . . . Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.”

    “The publication debuted at number one on the bestseller lists for The New York Times and The Globe and Mail, holding the position on the former for eleven consecutive weeks.”

    • Tarczan

      Yeah you can be good at stuff through practice and study, an expert even, but there is no guarantee of being the best in the world.

    • Mrfinoni

      The equivalence of 4 years of work or an apprenticeship. However Gladwell pointed out that there has to be the opportunity to get the 10,000 hours. Today around the world, White men are being blatantly discriminated against across the board in employment and athletics and virtually every endeavour to halt their success, while promoting mediocre minorities. Without this discrimination the minorities can’t compete with Whites.

  • WR_the_realist

    “Our results won’t come as a surprise to most biologists, sports
    scientists, or coaches–all of the previous data pointed to this
    conclusion,” said Deaner. “But our results are important because the
    deliberate practice model and its ’10-year rule’ remains enormously
    popular among many social scientists and intellectuals.”

    Social scientists and intellectuals are always the last people to recognize any truth about the human condition.

  • TruthBeTold

    Another study to confirm what we all ready know.

    I’m waiting for the study that confirms our eyes are responsible for seeing and our ears are responsible for hearing. After all, we don’t want to jump to any conclusions about common sense observations.

  • Extropico

    “According to this model, there is no such thing as innate talent.”

    It isn’t a good reflection on a scientist of any stripe to admit they dislike the pursuit of truth and understanding. These “biologists” and “psychologists” profess a love for a religious dogma for which they are bitter clingers.

  • Berkeley Guy

    social scientists

    Don’t make me laugh.

    Of course biologists , geneticists, and other hard science practitioners understand that many traits that we usually term as ‘talent’ are heritable and predictors for success. American, and Western political ‘solutions,’ are sloppy and many times dangerous due to ideological resistance to scientific findings that diminish such ideological bunk. Many hard science practitioners understand this and keep quiet out of fear or peer pressure to conform.

  • Selection is still selection, whether done by people breeding animals for desired traits or the environment breeding people and animals for survival traits.

  • The field in which innate talent is most manifest is combat flying. Five percent of the pilots make about 95% of the kills; you’re either an ace or a target. For some reason, aces also have more girl children later in life.


    “10 years of deliberate practice (roughly 10,000 hours) are necessary and sufficient for anyone to become an expert in any field, including sports.”

    “Mozart showed prodigious ability from his earliest childhood. Already competent on keyboard and violin, he composed from the age of five and performed before European royalty.” — wiki

  • IA_Adam

    I got news for you… The same thing goes for all running distances. You can’t be a great distance runner off training alone either. You have to have the potential going into the sport, just like sprinting. To be a great distance runner requires an exceptional “VO2 Max” cardiovascular capacity, narrow frame, excellent symmetry, and a bones, joints, and immune system that can handle the rigors of competitive class distance training. You can train as hard as you want for distance, but your natural born traits will determine how fast you get.

  • John R

    Of course: Exercise can improve almost anybody. But to be a top athlete, you need the right genes. I work out; it makes me stronger. Pushups, pull ups. But no amount of working it is going to make me a top Olympic weight lifter. Same as being a sprinter. And the more elite athletes are, the more genetics play the primary role in success.

  • ElComadreja

    That’s funny. They’re usually bitching that plantation owners would breed negros selectively to create better field hands.

    • hastings88

      Apparently, work could not be bred into them after only a couple hundred years of trying.

    • r j p

      They weren’t better workers, necessarily, just more able to with stand Suthren heat and humidity.

  • ElComadreja

    They never develop beyond the level of an 8-12 year old mentally.

  • MBlanc46

    Mathematics is another field where you’ve got to be born with the ability to see the structure. I was good enough ace the courses at a small liberal arts college, but I could see that I didn’t have the talent to be a research mathematician. My senior year, I had to proctor a course for a couple of weeks because the prof was ill. There was a 16-year old from the local high school where he had already taken all the courses, so he was sitting in on our course. He was at least an order of magnitude (maybe two or three) better than me. I could have studied 16 hours a day for twenty years and not have had the grasp that he had at 16.

    • Right. Math is something you either have or don’t, and furthermore, people have a math wall, a point beyond which they used to have it but don’t anymore as the math gets more complex.

      Which is why it’s so ridiculous to try to bring social context and concern into math to appeal to the undertow. All the socially conscious sidebars in the world about how a mulatto scientist solved a differential equation in order to make peanut goop won’t help you solve a differential equation if you don’t already have the ability to do so.

      • MBlanc46

        Absolutely. We’ll be lucky if we can teach the average Negro how to do basic arithmetic calculations. My general view is that for the (say) 110+ IQ white or Asian, we ought to teach fundamentals such as set theory and modern (abstract) algebra so they’ll not just know how to calculate, but actually understand why what they’re doing works. But with blacks and Hispanics, if we can get them to rote memorize how to do it, we can consider it a job well done.

  • Deiter Botha

    Boxing shows natural ability will always beat deliberate practice. Time and again the best of the best are born gifted. White kids need to be exposed to all the great sports so they can find what they like. I’ve been involved with boxing for years, most recently coaching and any person can learn but every now and then one will just take to it in a way that is only explained by god given talent. I can only imagine the time and money that was wasted doing this study.

    • I think Ingemar Stenmark was the best downhill skier in history. I couldn’t do it the way he did, but I sure wanted to.

  • watling

    In the 2012 London Olympic Games:

    – all of the men’s 100m sprint finalists were black;

    – all of the men’s freestyle swimming finalists were white

    The above two facts are pure coincidence of course. Whites run as well as blacks and blacks swim as well as whites.

  • But why would they exist there in Ireland and not, say Zimbabwe?

  • I am six feet even and have a 32-inch inseam. One of my high school friends was skinnier than I and at 5’11” and had a 34-inch inseam. Another is also 5’11”, but wears a 28″ trouser inseam and is built literally like a gorilla. Which of the three of us do you imagine would be the better sprinter? Which do you suppose would be the best offensive lineman for American football?