Perfect Practice Prevents Poor Performance. This is a concept that I remember being drilled into my head as a young, competitive athlete. But what does this really mean? Perfect Practice? How is that any different from practice?
I recently read an article by Geoff Colvin titled “Why Talent is Overrated: The conventional wisdom about “natural” talent is a myth. The real path to great performance is a matter of choice.” Colvin goes into detail about what he terms Deliberate Practice, that is “deliberate practice requires that one identify certain sharply defined elements of performance that need to be improved, and then work intently on them” The full article is worth the read, and has some very interesting points in it.
To put this into simple terms, Lets look at a typical warm up activity: playing pass.
You arrive at the field, change your shoes, do a couple warm up laps and stretch while chatting with your team mates. Then you split up into pairs and start hitting a ball back and forth:
You work on your push pass, hit, sweep hit – take a couple extra touches on the ball, and try and keep your feet moving. Have a few miss traps, laugh them off as you chase your ball down and continue to go through the motions until your coach calls you in to start practice drills.
You start with short passes, focus on ball speed, technique and receptions. You notice that your first touch is not great and make some adjustments to fix this. You notice that you are able to receive hard passes more consistently if you stay low between receptions. You work hard for 10 reps, then take a quick break. You ask your partner to send you some lifted / slow / fast / back hand passes so you can practice your first touch and receptions. You move on to sweeps and continue to focus on technique and receptions, you notice that your sweep is better when the ball is moving on your release – you practice this ten or twenty times working on your footwork to improve this. You move on to hitting, and notice that you are having difficulty keeping the ball flat and on the ground. you talk to your teammate and coach and determine it is because you are lifting your head and not following through. You practice your hitting technique slowly, repeating the proper technique until you are naturally completing the motion correctly. Coach calls the team together and you make plans to continue practicing this hitting technique on your own after practice.
Perfect practice is about identifying skills that you are not doing well, and working on them repeatedly until you can do them naturally, under pressure, and without thinking about it. Always have a goal in mind for what you want to achieve with your practice. In order to master a skill or technique, you MUST train that skill with perfect practice and set measurable goals to help you identify your progress toward mastery. Colvin says “the poorest performers don’t set goals at all; they just slog through their work. Mediocre performers set goals that are general and are often focused on simply achieving a good outcome – win the order; get the new project proposal done. The best performers set goals that are not about the outcome but rather about the process of reaching the outcome.”
Think about that next time you are warming up! They say it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate, perfect practice to become expert at something. Dr. Daniel Levitin explains the 10,000 hour concept like this:
“ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people don’t seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”
Don’t waste your training hours!
Here is a cool interactive tool I found to help figure out how long it will take you to reach mastery. 10,000 hours of PERFECT PRACTICE in your field of expertise.