Monday, November 2, 2009

Practice makes perfect?

It is often said “practice makes perfect”. Does it? It might.

I was doing some research and came across an interesting study of ice skaters. Each ice skater was given 1 hour to practice their craft. One skater was an Olympic caliber skater, one was a very solid up and comer, and the final was a beginner.

The Olympic skater spent their time practicing moves they have not yet perfected. The Up and comer spent their time practicing moves they have already perfected. Finally the beginner spent a lot of time talking with friends, and in general reluctant to do much.

All three skaters practiced the same amount of time, however each used the time extremely differently. The basic premise of the study was practice alone does not make perfect, however DELIBERATE practice does.

I send a lot of time with my athletes trying to get them to understand this, especially with weaknesses. Joe Friel used to use the example about golf when speaking with me. He would point out for a new golfer the worst thing they could do was spend hours a day hacking away. The same golfer would do much better to do several shorter practice sessions refining skill.

Self coached athletes will get better with “time in” for sure. The same athlete with a general plan will do even better yet. The athlete with a coach will on average do the best because deliberate practice is forced. It usually does not come naturally to work deliberately on the things you do not like to do.

Coaches will often encourage athletes to invest in devices such as power meters and or speed distance watches for this exact reason, it helps us refine the practice even more.