Friday, March 04, 2011

Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 Hours, and the Development of Pape Sy

The 2011 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference opened with a panel led by Malcolm Gladwell and featuring Jeff Van Gundy*, Daryl Morey, Justin Tuck, and Mark Verstegen (Founder and Chairman of Athletes' Peformance) entitled "Birth to Stardom, Developing the Modern Athlete in 10,000 Hours."

Among his many qualities, turns out the man tells a good Bonzi Wells fat joke.

The stated purpose was to discuss the roles of nature and nurture in the development of athletes and takes its title from the supposition that it takes 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to become expert at anything. Obviously, there's a difference between the development of a primarily physical (or, at least, self-selecting first by physical attributes) skill and a skill (both classical composition and chess were used as examples) that is primarily cognitive but there are, safe to say, far more people physically capable of playing professional basketball than there are capable of playing professional basketball well.

Verstegen explicitly stated that above the physical baseline necessary to be a professional athlete in a given sport, nurture surpasses nature. The entire panel agreed on the twin necessity of a player's ability to be coached and a coach's ability to provide quality instruction. Morey and Van Gundy both expressed concerns about the potentially deleterious effect great talent and the early ease of domination can have on a player's development in that the early, true lesson can be that purposeful practice is not necessary for success.

Justin Tuck used two Alabama high school products--Jamario Moon and Gerald Wallace--as examples of this. Moon was the early bloomer, the player who could do anything he wanted to on a basketball court at an early age and, understandably, did not see the immediate need to work as hard for success as did Wallace, who had to put in work to be as good as he wanted to be and it was that Wallace developed the ability to put in work that allowed him ultimately to surpass the more immediately gifted Moon.

10,000 hours is a lot of work. It's four hours a day for 10 years. And 10 years is a large chunk of an athlete's viable career span.

Where are Pape Sy's 10,000 hours?

I would like nothing more than for the Hawks to get value out of Pape Sy. It would be an example of creative, insightful decision-making and would expand the reasonable hopes and expectations for the franchise's ability to acquire useful, cost-effective players.

Sy has played less than 1,000 minutes professionally. He played 425 minutes in the French league last season and 508 minutes in the D-League this season. That's 15-and-a-half hours of professional game experience, none of it at a level equal to that of the team that employs him.

Assuming that Sy possesses both the baseline physical requirements to play in the NBA and the desire to work on his own development (and that work surely counts toward his 10,000 hours), when will he get those 10,000 hours in?

There are late bloomers. Justin Tuck credited not playing football until the 10th grade and not receiving sophisticated coaching until his Sophomore year of college with avoiding both burnout and the ingrained bad habits picked up from unsophisticated coaching.

One month from today, Sy turns 23. He doesn't have a lifetime to maximize his abilities as a professional basketball. 10,000 hours. Four hours a day for 10 years. All of it purposeful practice.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I liked the Stromile example as someone that Morey and JVG discussed fitting into Gladwell’s theory. Wrote about it here: . Also, Iverson – talking about practice – would seem to be just like McGrady, in not needing repetition.