Friday, August 07, 2009

Evelyn Stevens, innately gifted freak, or making diligent use of a basic necessary component?

Kristin Armstrong said she did her last US race this season and Marc said, "when one superstar leaves, another will fill her place."

Sure enough, all the sudden there's this name popping up all over atop NRC podiums and the only thing I hear is "she just got her first bike 10 months ago." Egads!

So you can imagine my relief to find she's gone about it all in a research supported manner. She's got an athletic background and worked with a coach in a focused way (deliberate practice) all winter. Whew. Why the relief? Because, if she just truly came out of nowhere and simply "ran a little bit when she could," then I would hold my masters degree suspect and my beliefs about achievement would be wholly undermined resulting in diminished motivation in my own training.

The data support a few critical components of superior performances: basic, perhaps innate, attributes suited to the task; willingness to engage in deliberate practice; a supportive environment and at least 10 years prior experience (Ericsson et al, 1993).

Stevens must have a great VO2 max. That she comes by genetically. We know she's driven and competitive by her choice of careers and her previous athletic endeavors. She's got experience. While not cycling per se, the strategic elements and athleticism in her life prior to getting on a bike support the assertion she will make a rapid transition because she is primarily transferring many years' experience and knowledge to a new domain -- not building that knowledge structure from scratch, which is much more difficult. Moreover, she's doing it with a coach, which is the "deliberate practice" component of success.

If you want to know more about acquiring expertise, K. Anders Ericsson is the best place to start. My graduate advisor, Dr. David Brooks, introduced me to the following article and I encourage you to read it.

What's deliberate practice?
Get plan. Follow the plan.
Learn and practice each skill till they're automatic.


Marc said...

It takes about 10 yrs to be a podium contender in a major tour.

The hard part, I think, is making it to 5 yrs any any one field of expertise.

It's why my goal is to be an expert coach in 7 yrs. I've got 3. In 2 yrs I can test for the elite level coaching cert. It's why I bury my face into the study of being a coach/trainer every chance I get. Self taught. Repetitive.

The Old Bag said...

Interesting post -- I studied Ericsson in a grad program and we discussed the athletic performance aspect (Tiger Woods, in particular, at the time).

Great connection between prior experience, deliberate practice and "new to cycling". Years ago, we had a local racer burst onto the scene and take everyone by storm -- prior speedskater, educator, VO2 max off the charts, got a coach, placed in pro-level races within her first two years racing...much to our consternation!