What Does It Take to Be Your Best?

Excerpt from The Athletes Cloud [TAC] Book

TAC pyramid lvl2

Level 2 – Consistency


TAC matrix01Physical Dimension – Stamina                                                                                       

What is the underlying ingredient for an athlete to be successful?  This has been a highly debated question for many years.  The psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and two colleagues at Berlin’s Elite Academy of Music conducted one of the important scientific experiments in this field to offer an answer.  By studying young violinists and monitoring their progression they were able to discover who were the ones capable of reaching the highest level of their discipline. They discovered that those students, who practiced the most, became the top violinists.  “Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works.  That’s it.  And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.” “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hoursThe emerging picture from such studies is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert – in anything,” writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin.  “In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.” (1)


  1. Gladwell Malcolm, Outliers (New York NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008), 38-40.


First, ten thousand hours applies to acquiring true expertise, to becoming a master, perhaps a grand master of the art, the sport. Its to train to achieve the highest levels of performance.

Second, everyone starts at zero, no one is born with an account already credited with any hours.

Last, its not ten thousand hours of mindless repetition, of pure volume, of ‘garbage miles’, or ‘junk hours’, it is training performed with specific intent: mindful repetition to gain, to improve, and to refine skills. It is ten thousand hours of knowing at all times what it is that you are training, why you are practicing the skill, the sequence, and reflecting on how it feels.

It is ten thousands hours of constantly asking…

  • Can my execution be improved?
  • Can the effort be made to feel easier?
  • Can anything be modified? What? How?

The goal of those ten thousand hours is to progress from a state of:

  1. unknown unknowns – not knowing that you are unaware of what is required to succeed, to
  2. known unknowns – gaining awareness of the complexity of what excellence entails, to
  3. known knowns – able to execute skill sequences on demand with a degree of proficiency, to
  4. unknown knowns – able to flawlessly execute form, skill, and technique while managing foreseen and unforeseen variables moment to moment without conscious decision making.

Excellence is being able to consistently execute at the highest level of performance regardless of changing variables such as competitors and conditions.


“Anyone can win something once or do something once.  You can be opportunistic, but turning up at the biggest races in great form and putting in a great performance year after year is the toughest thing to do in sport [in art, and in life].”

3x Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander