New Website and Podcast Arrives January 2018

10,000 Hours Away From Stick Skill Mastery

In favor of the 10,000 hour rule. And, a few paragraphs that suggest otherwise.

Imagine if your standard was to be the best there ever was. Best on your team, best your high school has ever seen, best in your state, best in the country, best there ever was. How much time would you need to spend practicing to be the best?

Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers suggests that 10,000 hours of practice could make you an expert. He references Bill Gates and The Beatles as products of the 10,000 hour rule. Certainly, you would consider them to be masters and experts at their craft.

If you needed to score a goal to force a game into overtime and you had a choice between Lebron James and a D1 attackman who wasn’t even going to play on senior day, who would you pick? On one hand you have arguably the best player in the NBA. On the other, you have a bench warmer who plays a fringe sport.

You’d pick the attackman every time because you know he has caught a lacrosse ball before. Right? You know he has shot a lacrosse ball before. You might even guess that he’s scored a big goal at some point in his career. Lebron James might be the first athlete to earn $1 billion dollars. He’s 6’8” and 250+ pounds. He could have been an NFL wide receiver if he wanted. Clearly a better athlete than the worst D1 attackman in the country. Not a better lacrosse player.


Pittsburgh has never won a Pennsylvania state title. Mt. Lebanon has been close a couple times, but there’s something about close only counting in grenades and a lawn sport. A popular complaint in Pittsburgh is the football coaches prevent the best athletes from playing lacrosse. Well, unless the Steelers have a losing record for the next forty years, Pittsburghers are always going to be passionate about the sport which will lead to their children being passionate about the sport which leads to them playing football. Head safety isn’t an issue in Pittsburgh yet in terms of keeping kids away from the sport. But, even if you had the best twenty five athletes in one Pittsburgh high school, they would still have to be able to pass, catch, scoop, and shoot. That takes time and effort.

How important is the 10,000 hour rule to lacrosse?

If you took an average athlete on your high school team and could give him the stick skills that come with 10,000 hours of practice, is there any doubt in your mind that he would be the best lacrosse player on your team? Great lacrosse players aren’t superior athletes so much as they are superior handlers of the ball. Galdwell’s 10,000 hour rule is often discredited when it comes to athletics and right so. No amount of lifting or speed training is going to transform an average human being into an Olympic sprinter or a 165lb boy into an Alabama offensive lineman. But 10,000 hours of developing skills would be absolutely career changing because stick work is more about putting in effort and understanding your physical gifts rather than simply relying on genetics.

If you get to 9th grade and there are certain skills you lack and concepts you don’t understand, it is too late. There’s not enough time in the day for you to catch up and even if there was you probably don’t have the killer instinct/competitive edge/as bad as you want to breathe attitude to do so.

If you’re in school for eight hours a day and you sleep for eight hours, you have eight hours available for training. If you spent eight hours a day on stick work, it would take you 1,250 days or 3.4 years to achieve mastery.

Is it possible that the freshmen and sophomore attackmen that have committed to ACC schools are stickwork masters? No, but their stick work is clearly closer to mastery than a sophomore attackman from Pittsburgh. Why?

You could say that Long Island/Baltimore has better coaches at the youth level. You could say there isn’t a lacrosse culture in Western Pennsylvania. You can’t say they are more athletic than someone else, because elite stick skills have nothing to do with athleticism.

To suggest that a club program’s methodology has anything to do with a player’s commitment to a D1 school is ridiculous. A player could practice five times in the fall and ten times in the summer for a total of thirty hours. It’s up to the individual.


Let’s take a look at some brutal numbers.

If you wanted to achieve stick work mastery, as Gladwell describes it, the summer before freshman year of college, the following chart will help you do so.

5th grade 60 minutes a day for 150 days 9000 minutes 150 hours

6th grade 2 hours a day for 200 days 24000 minutes 400 hours

7th grade 3 hours a day for 300 days 54000 minutes 900 hours

8th grade 4 hours a day for 300 days 72000 minutes 1200 hours

9th grade 5 hours a day for 300 days 90000 minutes 1500 hours

10th grade 6 hours a day for 300 days 108,000 minutes 1800 hours

11th grade 6 hours a day for 350 days 126,000 minutes 2100 hours

12th grade 6 hours a day for 350 days 126,000 minutes 2100 hours

This seems like the path an attackman from Long Island or Baltimore takes. He is introduced to lacrosse in elementary school. His friends all play so he wants to play even when they are out of season. He likely plays on a travel team. By the time middle school rolls around, he is exposed to the notion of early recruiting and begins to ramp up training. Regardless of his college prospects, he wants to win a state title before graduating and increases his effort.

What if you’re a little bit older? This chart would help a rising 8th grader achieve mastery.

8th grade 6 hours a day for 300 days 108,000 minutes 1800 hours

9th grade 6 hours a day for 350 days 126,000 minutes 2100 hours

10th grade 6 hours a day for 350 days 126,000 minutes 2100 hours

11th grade 6 hours a day for 350 days 126,000 minutes 2100 hours

12th grade 6 hours a day for 350 days 126,000 minutes 2100 hours

There aren’t any surprises here. The longer you wait the more work you have to do to achieve mastery by the end of senior year of high school. But, with early recruiting, an athlete’s middle school years are becoming more important. If you want to be a Division 1 attackman, you need to showcase Division 1 attackman stick skills as a rising freshmen, which means you would have had to start playing earlier than 8th grade and you certainly would have to be dialed in during training.

Is that unfair or unrealistic? The MLL at this point in time is not a viable career option. It is a part time gig. You must treat college as your last opportunity to play at the highest level. Doctors aren’t released into operating rooms after a year of study.

Certainly, a high school student would have a difficult time logging six hours of training during the school year, but there would be plenty of time to catch up during the summer and on the weekends regardless of your course load and whether or not you needed a part time job.

If you’re from Pittsburgh, Kansas City, South Carolina, or Las Vegas, there’s a very good chance someone from Baltimore or Long Island has been playing lacrosse at a higher level, longer than you have. But, what if you decided to achieve stick work mastery?

Look at the Canadians. No one is recruiting Canadians, because of their mind blowing athleticism. In fact, if you saw any Canadian lacrosse player on the street, not named Brodie Merril, do you think a regular person would guess that the Canadian was a D1 athlete? They are being recruited for their ability to catch in traffic and score goals. These are skills they’ve developed through box lacrosse reps. When Americans start playing box lacrosse at a younger age, the influx of Canadian recruits might subside because you’d be getting that blend of American athleticism with higher level stick work. That is a post for another time.

If Canadians who look like regular guys on the street are securing D1 roster spots, why can’t you? D1 lacrosse players are not world class athletes. The sport will never command the best athletes on the planet until the MLL is paying seven figure salaries.

The Manhasset attackmen who verbals an ACC school is not turning down an SEC football progam. The 2018 that gave a verbal commitment to UNC doesn’t look like he’s also going to be playing basketball in Chapel Hill. Lacrosse players aren’t the top 1% of the athletes in the world. They just have better stick skills than you. Why can’t you put up 10,000 hours of stick work?

How many touches could you get in 10,000 hours of training? Let’s say your 10,000 of hours training was just wall ball. You would likely go through several different iPhones, headphones, and podcasts during that experience. Our timed wall ball routine is 110 touches and should be completed in 140 seconds if you’re an attackman. Tweet @4OneTwoLax if you want it.

If you did our timed wall ball routine for 10,000 hours, you would tally over 28 million touches. The attackman that has logged over 28 million touches on the wall is probably someone who really loves the game. He’s probably someone who knows how to string their own stick.  He’s probably someone that can throw a catchable ball with his off hand. He’s probably an attackman you would want to pass to on the crease. You would expect him to catch it and deposit the ball in the back of the net.  He is consistent with his stick work because he put in in the work on his own.

Stop making excuses and control what you can control.

Mini Devil’s Advocate

Last fall, former Episcopal Academy coach Kevin O’Brien tweeted an article debunking the 10,000 hours rule. Of course, the article doesn’t suggest that you can be an expert after only twenty hours of practice, but it is worth a read, because it will challenge you both as a coach and player on how you think about practice.

Coach: Is a seventy five minute practice with no breaks better than two hour and fifteen minute practice? Am I giving proper feedback?

Player: Am I paying attention in drills or am I just trying to get by? Am I thrilled the 10,000 hour was debunked by this article because I was looking for a short cut?

It also immediately reminded me of this Kobe Bryant quote, “The important thing to remember is it’s not about how much you practice per se, but how much your mind is present during practicing.”

Kobe, like The Beatles and Bill Gates, has probably been present for 10,000 hours of practice.

Author’s Note: This post began in October. Another few hundred words were added in December. Some quick edits were made in May. Wanted to post before it was hidden for another five months.


Extra Reading

Wall Ball is Overrated by Bart Sullivan

Are We Really Coaching Decision Making? by Gary Curneen (soccer coach)

 Acclimating to Intensity by Alan Stein (basketball strength and conditioning coach)

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