Tiger Woods and Roger Federer are two very successful sportsmen, who exemplify two different approaches to achieving excellence.
Tiger Woods started learning to play golf when he was just an infant, his father made sure of it, and Tiger was destined to become a champion from an early age.
Roger Federer’s mother is a tennis coach, who didn’t encourage him to take up tennis, but rather urged him to try many different sports. His family had no particular expectations nor aspirations for him; Roger was left to experiment, and above all to have fun. He loved sports in general, and ball sports were his favourite. His approach to sport was light-hearted and curious, and he was always keen to try new things.
By the time Tiger was four, he was already spending up to eight hours at a time on the golf course, and by the time he was eight, he could beat his father, who had a single-digit handicap, and had played college baseball.
Tiger Woods' incredible sports training has been the subject of many studies and bestsellers on skill development. Woods leads us onto the subject of "deliberate training", which consists of repeating the same exercises, under the supervision of a coach, after having received specific instructions on how to do them best, and obtaining feedback to continuously improve performance.
It is the same kind of logic that gave rise to the 10,000-hour rule, which states that to become excellent in any field, you need at least 10,000 hours of practice, of "deliberate training". It follows that the sooner you start, the better. Anyone who starts at a very young age, as Tiger Woods did, has an initial advantage.
We are taught that it is important to focus our efforts very early, to choose the thing we want to become good at, and to do it as early in life as possible.
And yet, it doesn't quite work like this, or at least this is not the only route to success, because otherwise there would be no way to explain Roger Federer's amazing career in the tennis world, nor that of many other athletes, artists, or entrepreneurs, who specialised later in their lives, after trying many different alternatives.