The 3% Rule (or Why 97% of People Fail)

By August 12, 2008Articles, Training Tips

I was talking to my friend Roberto today and he was telling me about “The 3% Rule”. Basically, this rule claims that only 3% of a group will progress to the next level. For example, only 3% of High School football players will be able to play in College. Then, 3% of College players will be good enough to play in the NFL, etc. Although the actual percentage might be different depending on the activity, my own experiences show me that the underlying concept is sound.

Our conversation reminded me of my experiences working in SAT prep. From my own research, I found that students scoring above 700 on this section could define about 80% of the words on a vocabulary list that I had compiled. Given the universality of this characteristic, it made sense that students who want good SAT Reading scores should improve their vocabulary.

Unfortunately, it’s not really the most efficient use of a tutor’s time and the parents’ money to spend hours in memorization games with the students so usually you tell the student to handle it on their own. Now what % of these students do you think actually sit down and take the time to memorize these words?

In almost 5 years of working in the business, I have had ONE student do it.  She ended up going to Yale.


How does this relate to Jiu-Jitsu?

Well, just like there are a lot of teenagers who did not take all the opportunities to improve their SAT scores, the majority of BJJ students will not take advantage of all the opportunities their school offers.

At my school, we have extra conditioning sessions. Maybe 1% of the students participate in them. I hold seminars with World-class competitors like Bruno Frazatto and Kenny Florian. Maybe 10% of the students regularly attend them. I tell the students to keep a training log – maybe 15% there. Here is the funny part – it’s the SAME people that do all the “extras”!!!

One time, I thought I would bribe the students into developing good habits, so I offered a reward to the first 3 people who came to me with a fully-written gameplan. I had thought that some of the more inexperienced grapplers would be the first. After all, the better students were already pretty good and could rest on their laurels.

I was WRONG!

The 3 gameplans that I received were from all from the “A-squad”.

And before you claim special circumstances… none of them had previously-written gameplans. All of them worked full-time jobs. In other words, they lived in largely the same circumstances as the other students in the class.

So what’s the difference between the 3% and the 97%?

To be honest, I don’t really know because it is impossible to separate the action from the individual. In other words, it’s the old Nature vs. Nurture argument. Take for example, Josh Plaschkes.

Josh is one of my best competitors. He takes notes. He watches videos. He does our team conditioning sessions and on top of that, works out more on his own time. He eats a super-clean diet. He attends seminars. Etc.

Would Josh be as good if he did NOT do any of the things above? I would bet no. But we can not even guess what kind of grappler an out-of-shape, fast food-eating, training once-a-week Josh would be. Just like we can not guess what kind of grappler, some of the “average” students could be if they did all the things that Josh does. The only difference we know for sure is that Josh is WILLING to do the extras and the others are not.

I guess my point is that top 3% are doing things that the remaining 97% are not. Therefore, if you want to take your game to the next level and move into that 3%, it should be very obvious that you need to do what the top 3% are doing – the “extras”.

But are these extras *that* important?  I’ll talk a little bit about that in a later entry.

About Julius Park

Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt. I've produced World Champions from Blue Belt up to Brown Belt. My next goal is to get a student to the Black Belt World Champion level and into the UFC. I have an English Bulldog, Ghostface, who has so far resisted all training methods.

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