Deliberate Practice

In 1993, Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Romer published a paper in Psychological Review that described a framework for developing expertise.  Not just competence, but expertise, in a particular field.  They describe a process they call “deliberate practice”.  It’s a form of discipline that is hard to come by for young athletes but I believe it is the secret for real success that goes beyond physical gifts.

Here’s a synopsis of the major points of their study and how great teachers, coaches and mentors must play a role:

  1. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, requiring high levels of focus and concentration.
    You’ve heard it before – no pain, no gain (in this case “mental” pain). But the authors also stress that you have to be “fully absorbed” in your practice for it to truly be effective.
  2. Deliberate practice is designed specifically to improve performance—to strengthen it beyond its current levels.
    This is the part that says you can’t just put in time and expect to get significantly better at anything – you have to consistently stretch yourself, and then stretch some more.
  3. Deliberate practice must continue for long of periods of time.
    This is Gladwell’s 10,000 hours/10 years. The authors go on to say “Basic research on expert performance suggests that the benefits it generates cannot usually be attained with less than 10 years of continued, vigorous effort.”
  4. Deliberate practice must be repeated.
    Even though repetition alone won’t get you to the level of excellence, you also won’t get there without out it.
  5. Deliberate practice requires continuous feedback on results.
    Sometimes you can tell on your own whether you are doing things right. But very often this is the area where having a great teacher, coach, or mentor can make all the difference.
  6. Pre-performance preparation is essential.
    This is where goal setting comes in – you have to know where you want to go if you expect to get there. Goal-setting “should involve not merely outcomes, but also the processes involved in reaching predetermined goals.” A great teacher, coach or mentor can help direct what the process should be and what goals to shoot for.
  7. Deliberate practice involves self-observation and self-reflection.
    As you practice, you need to be continually aware of your own performance and be focused on correcting and adapting as appropriate.  This kind of in-the-moment self-assessment is critical regardless of whether a teacher, coach or mentor is involved.
  8. Deliberate practice involves careful reflection on performance after practice sessions are completed.
    In addition to being aware of your performance as you are practicing, you need to look back on it once you are done and determine where you stand with respect to your overall goals. What might you change the next time to ensure ongoing progress? A great teacher, coach or mentor can help you in this evaluation and suggestion changes to your practice routine.