Sunday, May 2, 2010

10,000 hours of judo

I have spent many years studying how you go about creating an environment which will allow a judo player to develop who is capable of medalling at Senior World Championships and Olympic Games.

One of the most compelling theories for me is the work by Ericsson et al (1993) which suggests the 10,000 hour rule. Ie, that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become expert at something. This concept is popularised in Gladwell’s excellent book, Outliers (Gladwell, 2008).

So let’s think about training volumes achievable for a judo player. And let’s also think about ‘deliberate practice’. Training at club level in the UK, in a mixed ability group of average motivation, one might have a 90 minute session, of which 15 -30 minutes, is the time spent by the player intently focussed on technical improvement, or hard randori where they are technically challenged. The rest is warming up, resting, talking, acting as uke, helping lower grades or younger players, and playing games. Of course it is possible with the right attitude to get some benefits from these activities, but often I see that is not the case. Let’s be generous and say that there is 30 minutes of deliberate practice achieved. At a rate of 2 sessions per week, that gives you one of the required 10,000 hours.

Assume the player has good attendance and manages to attend the club for 50 weeks per year. Then they will achieve 50 hours towards their goal that year. It will only take them 200 years to become expert.

Most players are past their best by then!

So they clearly need to do more volume of deliberate practice. What if they could be in a well motivated training group, with a more experienced expert coach, who can keep them on task. And what if the sessions were lengthened to 150 minutes, of which, 2 hrs was deliberate practice. Could they do more than 2 sessions per week? How about 5 sessions per week? How about also doing a morning session with them? Could the coach keep them on task for 2hrs each weekday morning? They would probably have smaller numbers, so the coach would have to work harder to keep the sessions fresh.

But then they would have 4 hrs deliberate practice per day. Five days per week, That’s 20 hrs a week. In the earlier regime it would take our player 20 weeks, or 5 months to cover the same ground. Imagine our second player does this for 50 weeks per year. Then they can fit in 1000 hours per year. So they can feasibly become expert in 10 years.

So if we create a training environment where they can do 20 hrs per week deliberate practice, and we start when they are 16 years old, then by the time they are 26 perhaps they will be capable of winning at World level.

Could we start earlier? Gymnasts and swimmers start their deliberate practice much earlier. But in judo the best players are usually a bit older. Exceptionally they are 20 or 21 years old. Usually 23 – 28.

Do you have a talented payer you are working with as a coach? Are they doing deliberate practice? If so, work out for how many hours per week, and by what age they will have completed 10,000 hours.

For further reading on this topic try the references below.

To become that experienced, expert coach that can keep them on task, enrol on the Advanced Coach Award with the European Judo Union. Visit to find out more.

Ericsson, K. A., (2000). Expert Performance and Deliberate Practice - An updated excerpt from Ericsson (2000). Accessed on 2nd May 2010 at:

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R., and Tesch-Romer, C., (1993). The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406. Accessed on 2nd May 2010 at:

Gladwell, M., (2008). Outliers – The story of success. Allen Lane. London.

1 comment:

  1. I like where you are coming from on this, but I also don't think we should discount the appropriate warm up as a legit form of deliberate practice, or being an uke, etc. A warm up that includes things like shrimping exercises, footwork drills, uchikomi, etc, should be considered deliberate practice. Being the uke sometimes could be considered deliberate practice, especially when difficult and technical movements are being executed.
    I appreciate the sentiment of your post, but randori isn't the only thing that should qualify as deliberate practice...especially if one wishes to mitigate injuries!
    Thanks for the post!