Monday, May 2, 2016

The Art of Deliberate Practice

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times”. – Bruce Lee

There is always a questionable debate happening over the years – Talent vs. Hard Work. In recent years there have been plenty of research that has suggested that expertise in any skill or excellence is the product of practice and not innate talent. It has been further researched that excellence of performance or mastery over a skill depends on quality of practice (2). It is understood that to acquire a new skill, an individual needs to practice continuously to gain a certain amount of motor control. However, we would agree that an expert performance is qualitatively better in performance than a normal performance (1). So an exceptional performance in comparison to a normal performance wouldn’t be innate talent but the ability to practice and work, continuously and deliberately to improve your level of performance (3). To learn a new skill we would have to go through the three stages of learning
1. Cognitive
2. Associative
3. Automatic
10,000 hrs of Deliberate practice
Studies have compared various elite level performers ranging from sports, music and other activities that require someone to master a craft. In a study conducted by Ericcson (2006), they posited that to attain mastery over chess required an individual to practice the skills on an average of 10 years. The earlier you start to learn an activity the faster you would be able to master that activity. Furthermore, music composer took an average of 10 years to understand the different instrument, to understand the sound and the shape. As per statistics, a music composer with 10 years of deliberate practice under his belt would be able to compose a masterpiece by the time he turns 24 years old. A best example for us would be A R Rahman, he started playing at the age of 11 and he got recognized for his musical score in “Roja” at the age of 25. 10,000hrs is not a magic number that once you cover the number of hours you attain mastery. The 10000 hrs require deliberate practice and the effort from ones end.
A skill that required 2-3 sessions to master is called as deliberate practice. Once you have done that you move on to a different set of skills for the next 3-4 sessions. The method of deliberate practice can be applied in learning any new skills, if I take this to the strength training and I would want to learn the clean and press. I would break the movement into simpler movements for a person who is already into Strength training and would like to learn the Clean and press
1. The individual would have to master the technique of Deadlift.
2. Master the Front Squat
3. Master the Overhead press, military press, push press and the split jerk
4. We would then have to break the movements into Power Cleans, Hang cleans and the high pulls. This last component of the movement would have speed has an additional component and would require a certain amount of mastery of the previous mentioned lifts.
It is important to understand that each component’s in this above mentioned example made you ready for the next complex component. If we apply deliberate practice to a beginner we would have a very simple protocol in weight training. The technique would be applied to learn the form and technique of basic movement i.e. squats, Chest Press and Deadlifts. Here the lifts would be made simpler and simple progression from holding the barbell, to grip strength, tightness and neutral spine would be mastered.
Adopting to deliberate practice
Reflective practice
Repetitions is required to attain a skill, however, mindless practice in any skill would be detremintal in performance. Practice can be broken down to attain performance. Depending on the complexity of the skill, we need to break it down to blocked set. These blocked set could be then practiced and evaluated. For instance A beginner would learn open chords one at a time. The better you get at any skill, you need to retain it and to have a retention transfer happening in that particular skill. We need to work on random practice; the aspect of random practice is to combine two or three complex tasks to improve a set skill. For instance to practice two to three chords of an acoustic guitar to learn a verse, this helps in acquisition of the chords and make your process automatic.
Feedback – make mistakes
The importance of a coach is paramount for a beginner wanting to learn a new skill. The teacher helps in correction or gives feedbacks to correct the skill or the form. The learner would then cognitively process the whole feedback and improve on the set skill. During practice, the learner needs to work making mistakes during practice. It helps for the person to get out of the comfort zone and learn something new. So during every practice the limitation of that particular individual changes for the better.
Goal setting
Deliberate practice is not fun. It requires pre defined goals that would improve your acquisition skills and help you to better your performance.
There are plenty of research that debunks the 10,000 hrs of practice by Malcolm Gladwell a myth. We do understand that beside the 10,000hrs of practice we need the motivation, the effort and the dedication to continue your practice.
1. K.A.Ericsson. (2006). The influence of Experience and Deliberate Practice on the Development of SuperiorExpert Performance. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertice and Expert Performance,38, 685-706.
2. Gobet, F. (2012). Deliberate practice and its role in expertise development. In N.M. Seel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the science of learning. New York, NY: Springer.
3. A.M.Williams & N.J.Hodges. (2005). Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: Challenging tradition. Journal of Sports Sciences, 23, 637-650.
Frank Mapranny
Training Director,

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