By Robbie Butler
Outliers: The Story of Success is a 2008 book written by Malcom Gladwell. Among other things, the book repeatedly mentions the “10,000 Hour Rule”. This rule suggests that there is no such thing as innate talent but instead claims that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of 10,000 hours.
Recently, I have started playing six-a-side football with a group of lads I know. Five of the group happen to be primary school teachers. We started chatting about football in school and I discovered that in all four schools (two of them work together) football is ‘banned’ at break time!
I started to reflect on my experiences in St Paul's Boys National School in Lisduggan, Waterford. In the early 1990s school was as much about football to me, as it was education. From 1st class onward we played football when and where possible. Large footballs were forbidden so a tennis ball was used. It was almost impossible to control but made it much easier when one moved to the larger football.
School started at 9.15am but our matches regularly kicked-off before 8.45am. “Small break” involved a rapid 15 minute game from 10.55am to 11.10am.
“Big Break” was the main event. Lunch was quickly devoured so that games started around 12.35pm and finished at 1.15pm. All in all, we played roughly 90 minutes of schoolyard football per day with a tennis ball. That’s five full matches per week, not to mention the hours spent playing on the road after school, or with clubs and friends at weekends.
By the end of primary school, I estimate we had played more than 1,600 hours of football in school. That’s more than 16% of the way to Gladwell's magic 10,000 Hour Rule.
This 16+% cannot be accumulated today. Many of the great Irish players of the past surely benefited from this “extra” practice time. No doubt, Niall Quinn, Ronnie Whelan and Robbie Keane were all beneficiaries of playground football. Today’s generation do not get this opportunity. The Cork children that attend the schools of my team mates don’t have the opportunity a young Roy Keane once had in the very same schools. Insurance, health and safety, etc. are all cited for this decision.
In the early 1990s getting hurt was part of school life. Cuts, bruises, scars. They were all worth it so that you had the lunchtime bragging rights. It might be some time before we see the next Roy Keane emerge; kids simply don’t get the opportunity they used to.
By Robbie Butler
This website was jointly founded in July 2013 by David Butler, Robbie Butler, John Considine and Declan Jordan. All four founders are Lecturers in Economics at University College Cork, Ireland.