You can spot a qualified sport psychologist by the look of despair which sweeps across their face when an athlete mentions the 10,000 hour rule as a reason for overtraining. “It is not a rule” we will shout. It is 4,000-16,000 hours (10,000 plus or minus 6,000) and it was based on Violinists! But hey – the myth persists.

As sport psychs or coaches then our jobs feel that we should be helping our clients to find the ways to move them closer to expertise. Part of the difficultly in doing this, as Roger Kneebone’s new book highlights, is that there are not really any shortcuts to expertise. The process is slow, repetitive, and essential.  In fact, that is probably a key take away: Becoming an expert takes a long time, when you get there you are unlikely to recognise it and even when you do you can’t relax because then you would be drifting backwards. Expertise is hard.

Kneebone began his career as a Surgeon, spending some time treating trauma patients in South Africa and then switched to General Practice. He now an academic, researching experts and facilitating different types of experts to learn from each other. His stories come from medics, tailors, taxidermists, magicians and needlecraft experts. A complete range that all have one thing in common – they are experts in their field. Expert actually hardly mentions sport but so much is applicable to our world.

I like his definition that become becoming an expert means you have to combine knowledge and skill with an understanding of the whole context. This resonates in sport; what is the point of shooting a ball beautifully at the goal, if you shoot it at the wrong goal.

The book also reminds us how we learn:

  • Unconscious incompetence is when you don’t even know you can’t do it
  • Conscious incompetence is when you’re painfully aware that you aren’t very good
  • Conscious competence is where you can do it if you concentrate but you have to think about what you’re doing
  • Unconscious competence is the final stage the effortless mastery of the true expert.

It also nicely highlights different types of expertise:

  • Routine expertise = you learn to do something in a particular way then do it that way each time
  • Adaptive expertise = being able to come up with new approaches
  • Interactional expertise = learning from and engaging with those from outside your field. I think we could all benefit from that.

The book takes us through the stages to become an expert; Apprentice, Journeyman and then Master.


  • It takes time to become good at something and it will be tedious. While annoying it is actually essential and a key part of the journey to embed the tasks deeply in your knowledge. “Bypass [the boring bits] and you lose something essential…the process takes time and has to ripen…you need to become familiar with variation not just being able to cope with the ideal state.” In short, the aim is to overlearn so you don’t just get it right – you cannot get it wrong.
  • In this stage you also start to become familiar with the world you are joining – spend lots of time there as it will become your community of practice. You begin on the outside and gravitate inwards as you become better at what you do and build an understanding of the practice.
  • You get lots wrong but as you are still fairly protected others take responsibility for your mistakes. But we need these errors if we are to move forward and improve. We learn most from mistakes. “An error is just a painful part of becoming an expert.”
  • You start to learn where everything goes and how to step into the space of those you will work with, building self-awareness and gaining fluency in the language of your senses.


  • You move away from a focus on yourself and onto others. A chapter is actually titled: It’s not about you” and it feels so apt, you shift your focus from what you are doing to how can you do it well for others to benefit. You think about the impression they will get, focus on what you would like them to take away, and offer them that experience.
  • You begin to develop your voice, the style in which you work. How would someone recognise your work? “To be expert your voice must remain recognisably yours even when you are in situations you haven’t encountered before. To be effective, voice must be authentic. You are drawing on aspects of yourself that are already there not creating a new identity.” This means that at this stage we must develop self-awareness and sensitivity to monitor how we come across to other people.
  • You must start to be able to improvise, handling the unexpected, fixing problems and being able to respond to things you’ve never encountered before. “Improvising is what makes experts expert…being able to improvise is the high point of being an expert.”


  • You are unlikely to ever ‘feel’ like an expert and part of the expertise of being an expert is that you conceal how hard much of it is – you make it look easy. There is no clear moment when you are there – no door to pass though or certificate to get. And even if you figure it out you never get to rest – if you are not moving forward you drift back. This sense of never quite being finished is important. “It is an unending process with an elusive goal but it meets a need in all of us.”
  • You can innovate. Taking where you are now and moving the career, sector or profession on a step. Within this is having the  skills to take your subject and change direction if needs be, taking those skills with you.
  • Purpose becomes important as an expert. You don’t just do what you do but question the meaning and purpose in your work. Here we know why it matters and how we can best share.
  • It requires us to teach others; to pass on our expertise. This needs skills too. “The biggest challenge as a teacher is deciding what not to point out it’s easy to swamp the learner with long lists but less is often more… The art of teaching is to find one or two things which need to be improved upon which the learner can do something about and leave the rest for another day… a skilful teacher provides temporary scaffolding… as soon as the building is strong enough to take its own weight the scaffolding can be dismantled.”

The book concludes with more of a personal manifesto from Kneebone. It feels like he is seriously hacked off with the ‘anti-expert’ rhetoric that was in abundance during the pandemic and wants to make the case for experts – he does so passionately and powerfully. “Becoming expert is about channelling our energies into something that has purpose and meaning. It’s about making use of the potential we all have, to achieve something that goes beyond humdrum everyday life.”

Overall, Expert makes you want to be a better person, more masterful at what you do, and to invest the time and effort getting to that point. In short, it helps you move closer to becoming an expert. You can buy it on Bookshop: