The Gene-Free Model of Expertise

Dated Apr 29, 2014; last modified on Thu, 02 Sep 2021

Reaction Times are Overrated

Elite athletes do not display superior reaction times to those of average people; most hover at 200ms.

However, games are played at speeds where 200ms is too slow, e.g. 100-mph baseballs, 130-mph tennis serves, etc.

A reaction time of less than 100ms is deemed a false start in track and field sprints.

Superior Perception

Athletes outperformed novices when asked if there was a ball in a rapidly flashed slide. Some athletes could even tell the slide’s game!

While skilled players think further ahead than novices, they don’t think less ahead than grandmasters. However, grandmasters outperform them in reconstructing a scenario from a 5s exposure.

However, grandmasters were not superior at recreating boards from impossible arrangements of pieces.

Elite athletes chunk information based on patterns that they’ve seen before. This level of perception makes them unconsciously predict outcomes based on information such as player arrangements and body movements.

Finch struck out Albert Pujol, a top MLS hitter, with her 68-mph softballs. While Pujol had a mental database of the MLS players with their 100-mph baseballs, he had no mental model of Finch. Reaction time couldn’t save him.

10,000 Hours

3 groups of violin students with different potentials: international soloists, orchestra musicians, and music teachers. All started lessons at ~8, and practiced 50.6 hours per week.

However, by age 18, the amount of solitary practice were miles apart. Soloists had ~7,410 hours, orchestra musicians had ~5,301 hours, and future teachers had logged 3,420 hours.

The key idea is deliberate practice, i.e. effortful exercises that strain the trainee’s capacity. 10,000 hours by age 20 has since earned mainstream appeal.


  1. Perception in Sport: Volleyball. Allard, Fran; Janet L. Starkes. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. 1980.
  2. Thought and Choice in Chess. de Groot, Adriaan D.. The Hague: Mouton. 1965.
  3. Perception in Chess. Chase, William G.; Herbert A. Simon. Cognitive Psychology. . 1973.
  4. The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Ericsson, K. Anders; Krampe, R. T.; Tesch-Römer, C.. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363–406. . 1993.