Research into Practice: Practice, practice, practice

A New Yorker is approached in the street near Carnegie Music Hall, and asked, "Pardon me sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?" He replies, "Practice, practice, practice."

The ‘Amadeus Myth’ is the belief that exceptional performance is produced by mysterious powers or abilities limited to a special few. Obviously genetics makes a huge contribution to development, but does it explain such amazing achievements, or are there more important factors? What is the difference that makes the difference?

What does Research Tell Us?

Research has highlighted the vital role of practice in high-level performance. Some scientists have suggested that the apparent fact that some pick up skills at a faster rate than others is more best explained by sustained but unobserved practice, and this claim is supported by a many studies on elite performers’ lives. Interestingly, there is evidence of a distinct pattern in the time necessary to progress from beginner to expert: high performers in lots of different areas (music, poetry, science, mathematics and, of course, sport) have required at least ten years of concentrated practice in order to reach their high level of mastery. Of course, not all practices are equally valuable, and mere quantity of practice is unlikely to result in expert performance; quality of practice is also required. Some talk about ‘deliberative practice’ to refer to activities that are structured, goal-orientated, require effort and are not always inherently enjoyable. The type of sport is an important factor, too. Some sports (mainly new sports) will usually require less investment of time to make it to the top. Others (like golf, according to some recent research) can take as long as twenty years. But whatever variations exist, one thing seems absolutely clear: practice matters.

What does it mean for coaching?

1. Coaches need to allow enough practice time for their players to develop.

2. In most cases, this means structured practice, with good quality feedback, goal setting and support.

3. Since some of this practice may not be motivating in itself, it is important that players are taught the mental skills to deal with frustration and boredom if they arise.

Useful source of further information
Starkes, J.L. and Ericsson, K.A. (2003) Expert Performance in Sport. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
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