That Is Michael Phelps In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers he expresses that, “It makes a difference where and when we grew up. The culture we belong to and the legacies passed down by our forebears shape the patterns of our achievement in ways we cannot begin to imagine” (Gladwell 19).
He believes that there are other factors besides hard work and ambition that contribute to a person’s success. There are the rare cases, like Oprah Winfrey, who rose from nothing and worked hard her whole life to be who she is today. Although, most of today’s successful individuals were given opportunities that no one else had.
Michael Phelps is a prime example. He was not born an Olympic swimmer; he was constructed from an early age to be an Olympic swimmer. His family, the opportunities that he was given, and the 10,000 hour rule all play an integral part in his success. To begin with, his genetics were engineered for swimming. He has a long torso which is good for decreasing drag. It allows him to glide effortlessly through the water. His arm span is over six feet. A large arm span enables him to cover a longer distance with each stroke he takes. His legs are short compared to his arm span, but that makes it easier to generate power with is legs.
His size fourteen feet act as flippers, they propel him through the water (Kennedy).
But it takes much more than genetics to make a great swimmer. The culture and environment that Michael Phelps grew up in is what started young Phelps on his road to gold. His influence to swim came from his sisters Whitney and Hillary. Whitney has won a National Championship and served on the United States National Team. She tried out for the Olympics, but did not succeed. Hilary was on the University of Richmond swim team (North Baltimore).
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As a younger child he sat on the pool deck watching and cheering on his sisters.
When Phelps was younger he was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He had difficulty following instructions, paying attention in class, and always had an abundance of energy. His mother quickly began working with Phelp’s doctor to counteract the ADHD symptoms. They decided on a combination of medication and sports (Hahn).
His mother decided that swimming should be his sport just his like sisters. She chose swimming because she understood that children with ADHD needed structure and somewhere to channel their pent up energy (Hahn).
Swimming was the perfect sport for Phelps to work out his superfluous energy and it was a sport that required little focus. All he had to center his attention on was swimming up and down lanes. His mother signed him up for swimming at the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, which is where it all began (“Michael Phelps”).
North Baltimore Aquatic Club is no stranger to Olympic swimmers. Its swimmers have won nineteen Gold Metals, sixteen World Records, and thirty five American Records. Michael was immersed into the Olympic world of swimming at a young age; he knew Anita Nall and Beth Bosford who both won gold in the early 90’s from NBAC (Phelps 10).
Michael grew up around swimming and it was the only thing he knew. His access to the pool and the opportunities that NBAC provided give Phelps the competitive edge to succeed. It takes an expert to become a great swimmer. A person cannot it do it alone, they need someone on the pool deck watching and critiquing their every move. At age eleven Phelps was no expert, so he needed someone to teach and mold him. NBAC was crawling with coaches eager to raise an Olympic swimmer, including Bob Bowman whom Phelps has been working with for over twelve years now. When Bowman was younger he was on the Florida State swim team.
After graduating with a degree in child psychology he immediately started coaching instead. He has been all over the country coaching from Florida to Las Vegas, but never stayed in one location for more than two years, until he stumbled upon Michael Phelps at NBAC. Bowman was the perfect choice to undertake Phelp’s swimming career. He handles every aspect of Phelps’ swimming; he plans his, “warm ups, warm downs, stretching, messages, calorie intake, and meal times” (Forde).
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There is not much mental ability that Phelps’ has to put into his swimming career. All he has to do is provide the muscle and Bowman takes care of everything else.
Michael believes that, “I don’t think I could be where I am today with any other coach” (Forde).
Neurologist Daniel Levitin has found that, “ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert” (Gladwell 40).
From composers to athletes this rule applies. Preparation, instead of solely natural talent plays an important role in determining a person’s success (Gladwell 38).
All the opportunities in the world do not make a difference unless a person logs ten thousand hours of practice. It is then and only then that one can achieve mastery.
Bob Bowman and NBAC are responsible for giving Michael Phelps the opportunity to learn how to be an expert swimmer. Since Phelps started training with Bowman at NBAC from a young age he got an early start on his training. That gave Phelps a competitive advantage over other swimmers. Bowman was able to mold Phelps’ strength, power, and endurance from a young age. They are key aspects of muscle performance and without them Phelps’ muscles would not be able to sustain such a demanding lifestyle (Freudenrich).
NBAC’s pool was equipped with high tech cameras that followed Phelps up and down the lane above and below the water.
The camera allowed Bowman to critique Phelps’ every stroke (Valdes).
From age eleven to fifteen Phelps practiced six days a week, swimming three times a day; totaling five hours of practice a day (Valdes).
Five hours of practice a day multiplied by six days a week equals thirty hours of practice in a week. At age fifteen Phelps had logged 7,800 hours of practice. That same year Phelps was the youngest person to compete in the Sydney Olympics (“Michael Phelps”).
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It is not surprising that he did not win in Sydney, because at that point he had only accrued 7,800 hours of practice.
From age twelve onward Bowman had Phelps practicing seven days a week for five hours a day (Valdes).
The extra day of practice allowed Phelps to achieve ten thousand hours of practice by the time he was seventeen. He later accumulated well over ten thousand hours of practice by the time he competed in the 2004 Olympics, where he won six gold medals (“Michael Phelps”).
There is more to success than determination, even though it is clear that Michael Phelps’ dedication to his craft is a huge factor to his success as an Olympic swimmer. He has been dedicated to his sport since he was eleven years old.
Not many kids would have sacrificed their play time to spend several hours a day, three times a day. His perseverance is relentless, but there are other contributing factors to his success. There were a flow of opportunities that were presented to Phelps to aid in his success. He just so happened to be born into a family of swimmers, so he was exposed to swimming at such a young age. He was given the extra ordinary opportunity of being exposed to world class coaches at NBAC. If it were not for his mother enrolling him at NBAC, he would have never met Bowman, whom Phelps says he owes a lot of his success to.
If Bowman pursued his child psychology degree instead of coaching he would have not been a coach at NBAC. Michael Phelps’ surroundings and the opportunities that were afforded to him allowed him to transpire. Currently Phelps is training for the 2012 Olympics in London; it will be his fourth Olympics. Works Cited Forde, Pat. “Intense? Insane? Maybe, but Bowman is the architect of Phelps’ quest. ” ESPN. 14 Aug. 2008. Web. 11 Apr. 2011. Freudenrich, Craig. “How Exercise Works. ” Discovery Health. 11 Apr. 2011. Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008. Print Kennedy, Mike.