By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- Expert Performance refers to individuals that perform at the absolute highest levels
- The most important factor in expert performance is training related, and more important than genetics according to Baker
- Other interesting factors in expert performance are birthdate, being left handed, and emphasis on multiple sports or physical activities at the youngest ages
How does someone get to be the very best at something? These individuals are called “expert performers” by Canadian researcher and noted authority Joe Baker. Is someone just born this way, can it somehow be trained, is there a spectrum of performance through which someone can move from novice to expert?
Well it turns out that all of us can take heart, expert performers can be made and are not necessarily created that way from birth. Certainly there are genetic and environmental factors that will play a crucial role in performance but many individuals can dramatically improve their sports performance, regardless of genetics.
The number one factor in expert performers is training, a person’s ability to take on hard training seems to be a critical factor in success. So to a certain extent hard work, determination, and response to adversity are possibly more important than genetics. Specific training indicators are often age dependent. In the earliest age groups research supports sport enjoyment and basic skill acquisition in multiple sports or physical activity as a very important factor. Later on, emphasis shifts more to sport specificity and seeing results from the hard work.
Another factor they identified is birthdate, called the “relative age effect”. Essentially, when you are young and playing in age group sports, those kids born immediately after the cutoff date for the sport will have a definite advantage in the early going. This factor seems to become less prevalent in adolescence but it’s definitely a factor in the youngest age groups.
A very interesting finding was handedness, apparently a disproportionate number of expert performers are left handed.
Baker’s research is very interesting, but one caution I’d offer is that most of the research on expert performers is done retrospectively, meaning that the researchers identify expert performers and then generally look back in their past to find factors possibly responsible for their development. The problem with any of these retrospective studies is that they might not be predictive. In other words, it’s currently not possible to say to someone “if you do the things that these expert performers do then you’ll definitely become one yourself”. Certainly you’ll improve your performance by following the principles of expert performers so you probably have nothing to lose by trying these things. Go get to work!