We’ve all heard the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a pro. But is that enough? Federer certainly wouldn’t agree.
Once upon a time, a psychologist by the name of Anders Ericsson wrote a paper called ‘The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’. In the interests of expediency – he disputed the notion of ‘natural talent’ and attributed expert level anything to years of what he called ‘deliberate practice’. Ericsson believed that the likes of Tiger Woods, Serena Williams and Pelé weren’t born great, they were made great by the time they dedicated to their profession.
Fortunately, unless you were holed up in university studying for an undergraduate in Psychology, you didn’t hear about this theory from Ericsson. For fifteen years many of us didn’t know we already had what it takes to be Yo-Yo Ma (according to Ericsson at least).
Then in 2008, a journalist called Malcolm Gladwell published Outliers: The Story of Success. Cue the flurry of resignation letters!
This wildly popular book took Ericcson’s paper to whole new level. Gladwell introduced the ‘10,000-Hour Rule” which we all now refer to every time someone moans about how they can’t be the next Ronaldo. If you haven’t heard about it, don't worry. I’m sure you got the message when some smug over-achiever told you that ‘practice makes perfect’. More specifically, according to Gladwell, if you practise your skill for 10,000 hours you’ll become an expert.
So, you bought into the theory. You quit your city job and you put in your 10,000 hours. You may have even hired yourself a nutritionist and a trainer. Now what? Was it really every going to be that simple? Absolutely not.
No matter what you believe in the time versus talent debate you can believe this: sleep is one of the most important elements in maintaining that performance.
Did you know that Roger Federer aims for a solid 10 hours sleep a night as part of his training regime? And our very own Andy Murray reportedly outdoes that by a further 2 hours! Most of us only know what that amount of sleep feels like on Sunday after crawling into bed at 4 am. We spent almost a months’ rent on tequila the night before and we’re more likely to repaint our bedroom walls with that aforementioned spirit than challenge Nadal to four hours of tennis before millions of watching eyes.
However, if 12 hours’ sleep feels a little ambitious (it certainly gives us FOMO just thinking about it) - settle for a healthy 8 instead. We can’t guarantee you a spot on centre court, but we do promise you’ll see your performance improve, on and off the court.
Did you know that the more physical activity you undertake, the more brain cells you produce in your memory area? Then when you go to sleep your brain gets busy consolidating all these new connections. Over the next few days, all those moves are learnt. So that crucial technique tweak just can’t be learnt without a good nights’ sleep.
Much like your verbal memory, the more rest you give your muscle memory it the better it performs. Furthermore, sleep allows your body time to repair. For sports professionals, suffering an injury can be a serious career setback and sleep is critical to this recovery. Do you think Isner and Mahut hit the town for a night out at Mahiki in between their three-day, record-breaking match?
If you’re still not sold, try this one on for size: a good nights’ sleep for a pro-tennis player can give them a 42% increase in hitting accuracy and a 4.3% boost split-second decision making.
We promise you, it’s worth it.