Practice Make Perfect: But how much? (part 2)

Time

Like many parents I spend a considerable time watching my children play sport, in the main, for me that is tennis. It can feel like all my spare time is either at the tennis club or at a competition. As I type this I am currently watching my eight year old daughter having her Orange tennis lesson. Yesterday we spent our morning at an orange competition. Why do we give this amount of time? In simple terms we believe that this gives our child the best chance of success.

There is a wealth of evidence that suggests that the outstanding performers in any field have got to that level of expertise due to the large amount of practice that they have applied. One question that many sporting parents will ask is how much practice is required and once this figure has been identified, how do they motivate or encourage their child to put in this time? I’ll return to the second question in a later blog.

10,000 Hours of Practice

I constantly think how much should my children being playing and practicing? We could work back from the figure that is most often quoted which is 10,000 hours of purposeful practice is required to be a world class performer. Not that I’m thinking my children will get to that level. I’d just like them to hold their own at county or university level.

Returning to the world class performers and consider that they reach that level at the age of 25 and they started playing at 5 (it makes the sums easier) this is a total of 20 years. We can do a straight forward division of 10,000 hours by 20 years which gives 500 hours a year or just under 10hours practice a week.

Now if we imagine that from the age of 15 to 25, a player trains full time, perhaps 20 hours week. This actually gives 10,000 in itself. This would seem to indicate that huge number of hours of training are not required for younger players.

What about if world class performance is to be achieved by the age of 22? If we use the same basis of training full time from age 15, this is 7 years of training at 20 hours a week. This gives approximately 1000 hours a year or 7000 hours a total. If the player started playing at age 5, then they have 10 years to complete the other 3000 hours of practice which gives 300 hours a year or approximately 6 hours a week. We would of course expect younger players to train less and the training to increase for 15 year olds.

What do the experts say?

Advice from the International Tennis Federation looks at the age of players and places them in certain bands to give a quantity of practice a week. Secondly they look at sport as a whole and do not isolate is purely to tennis.

Children in age bracket 6-8 should have 3-4 sessions of a maximum 45minutes. This gives 3 hours in a week. Their practice should be 50% tennis and 50% other sports.

Children aged 9-11 should have 3-4 session, this time lasting 1 hour. This gives 4 hours in a week. Their practice should be 70% tennis and 30% other sports.

For 12-14 year old, they should have 4-5 in a week ranging between 2–3 hours. This gives 10 hours in a week. Practice should consist of 85% tennis and 15% other sports

Finally 15-16 year old are looking at 4-5 sessions in a week and these can between 3-4 hours each. This gives a total of 15 hours. Practice should be a balance of tennis, strength, conditioning and fitness.

A rule of thumb which has been suggested to me is that primary age children should train for no more hours in the week than half their age in years. So a ten year old should do no more than 5hours training a week and this should be a combination of tennis and other sports, perhaps 4 hours tennis and 1 hour of other sport. This appears to match up with the figures in the table and all this information is in line with the 10,000 hours of purposeful practice.

Ignoring the Numbers

A different way of looking at the quantity of practice is how the player is performing during the practice. The ideal scenario is that after a good practice session not only is the child physically tired but they are mentally tired as well. We can all physically exhaust a child in a short amount of time but they are not mentally tired. We can also spend too long on the same drill which mentally tires the child out long before they are physically tired. To do both at the same time takes a highly skilled coach with an aim in parallely of quality over quantity. We want the child to hit a forehand topspin enough times that they are grooving the right shape of shot and imprinting good muscle memory rather than hitting it so many times that they are tired and they are not longer replicating a good shot. I read of one teacher who suggested that if you practice with your mind as well as your body, then you will achieve as much in an hour and half than you can in a day!

The Danger

What we must try to avoid is over practicing and the child falling out of love with the game. If you speak to any experienced tennis coach, they will give lots of examples of promising players who practiced too much and drifted away from the game in their early teens. Whereas in reality, there are many years for young players to build up the practice time they need, whether they wish to play at county level or international level.

References:

Click to access IO_8043_original.PDF

http://www.tennisconsult.com/junior-tennis-player-train/

4 thoughts on “Practice Make Perfect: But how much? (part 2)

  1. Sally Akins (@SallyAkins)

    I think that kids in the UK are often pushed to do too many hours, too young. And the trouble is that parents talk to each other, and when you hear about a 10 year old who is doing 5 hours of individuals (or whatever), there is a little bit of worry that maybe your child is falling behind…

    I agree with you, especially about doing fewer hours of good, meaningful practice, not just mindlessly bashing a ball around a court for hours on end.

    Reply
    1. tennisdadblog Post author

      Thanks for your comment. It is really difficult, that worry for parents that they are not giving their child the opportunity that one of their peers has.

      Reply

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