In almost every sport there are elite players who seem to stand apart from everyone else. These athletes usually have a set of similar traits regarding their work ethic and dedication to their sport. Developing an elite skill set for any sport takes hours upon hours of practice. Ten thousand hours, or around ten years to be exact. This Ten-Thousand-Hour Rule has become increasingly popular in research regarding elite skill development. While ten thousand is not a magical number that separates good from great, there can be something said about a common theme to this research and evidence of elite players today: Practice, practice, practice!
A common saying in sport is that “practice makes perfect.” While everyone strives to be perfect, we like the phrase, “practice makes permanent.” When an athlete practices a certain skill, they build a neurological motor program. Increased practice time results in a more rapid conduction velocity of neural impulses to the muscles performing the skill. This essentially makes the skill become automatic, or permanent. This allows the athlete to focus more of their cognitive attention on other aspects of the play instead of what movements they need to do in order to perform the skill. In a sport like hockey, this extra attention and automaticity of skills is important in order to be an elite player.
With so many skills being involved in hockey, it is extremely important to take advantage of as much practice time as possible. Whether that means shooting pucks at home, stick handling a golf ball before and after practice, or going to a neighbourhood pond to work on skating, extra practice is crucial to skill development beyond normal scheduled team practices. Make sure to work on something specific. Don’t waste hours by just going through the motions. Work on hitting specific targets or stick handling around obstacles in order to improve the “wiring” of the nervous system and excite certain areas of the brain.
Time is ticking and skill won’t just appear overnight, or over the course of one season. Becoming elite in your sport takes upwards of around ten thousand hours of practice. The best part about that is an athlete can choose to make themselves great if they can convince their mind it’s worth doing. We wish all our athletes the best of luck in their playoffs and hope to see some hours being put in after the season is over in preparation for next years tryouts and camps!
Written by: Joe Underwood, Skill Development Coach, DEPTH Training & Victus Academy