Common threads in the history of elite performers

By Dan Peterson

The relationship between the hard work of thousands of athletes over their early careers and the finished product of elite athletes on a professional field of play is roughly comparable to that of our nationwide system of slaughterhouses and a glossy photo of a steak in something like Gourmet magazine. How do expert, elite athletes become expert and elite? We know generally: hard work, talent, deliberate practice, a certain never-say-die attitude, etc. But what are the more nuanced common threads? Are there more subtle predictors or commonalities lurking beneath the surface?

A new research effort, the Pathways to Podiums project, is aiming to capture this more detailed picture of the road to elite athletic performance. The project is led by Melissa Hopwood, a Ph.D. candidate at Victoria University in Melbourne, with collaboration from the Australian Institute of Sport and York University in Toronto. The researchers are trying to amass competition and training histories of as many athletes as possible, with the goal of finding the common threads in the most successful athletes.

Retrospective research efforts like the Pathways to Podium project will be an essential ingredient in fleshing out our knowledge about concepts like deliberate practice, expertise and elite performance. They will provide a more nuanced view than the useful, but incredibly crude, “10,000 hour rule“.

The data collection stage of the project has just finished. It will be very interesting to see what turns up in the result section. Visit the Pathways to Podium site for more info.

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