I recently read about an interesting experiment conducted by a table tennis coach, Ben Larcombe . Ben became fascinated by the idea that one could achieve mastery by practice, not innate talent. So he recruited his childhood friend Sam, a “computer geek” without any sign of sporting talent, and put him through a programme of over 500 hours of 1:1 coaching. Sam made dramatic progress – although one year of daily practice didn’t prove enough to make it as a top-ranked table tennis player.
Malcolm Gladwell popularised the thesis that to become an expert in anything one needs to put in an average of 10,000 hours of practice – after 7 years at University, and 20 years of tutoring I can certainly vouch for the value of practice!
And as a tutor what really excites me isn’t table tennis, but the parallels with kids at school – as Matthew Syed, a former Commonwealth table tennis champion, rightly points out: “In subjects like mathematics, if young people are not very good at the beginning they tend to give up because they don’t think they have got a brain for numbers.”
I can concur with those sentiments. New students often come to me lacking severely in confidence. They have often given up because they have convinced themselves they are “bad at maths.”