For example, if you are learning to golf, you will make quick improvements as you learn the basics. But once you know the basics of the sport, you need more than just a Sunday afternoon on the green in order to improve your golf game. A standard round of golf will not allow you to try the same putt multiple times. But to improve your game, that is what you need. You need deliberate practice where you take ten shots from the exact same location in order to change small things, like the grip or stance or club, to learn what really works best and under what conditions it works best.
Why Does It Matter?
Deliberate practice leads to three kinds of learning.
- It improves the skills that you already have.
- It extends the reach and range of your skills.
- It teaches you to think deliberately.
In deliberate practice, the repetition allows you to improve your current skills. A pianist with a large hand span will continue to expand that as they practice. But deliberate practice will have them focus on the areas that are weak, like speed. As the pianist works to gain accurate speed, their skill set improves.
Thinking deliberately connects wonderfully to critical thinking, and has applications beyond our classrooms. Deliberate practice teaches us to think through the problem or task and then make clear decisions for how we can achieve the result we want.
Ben Hogan, the professional golfer, explained that he begins each putt by thinking through where he wants the ball to go and then each option he has for how to get it there, using deliberate thinking. This allowed him to use all the skills he gained during practice and play his best game.
What Is Required?
Resources are all the things necessary to learn and practice. For the golfer, this includes a golf course, clubs, balls, other equipment and time. For the pianist, this includes a piano, music and time.
For all activities, the main resource required for deliberate practice is a coach or mentor. The coach evaluates the student’s skills, sets clear tasks to improve their skills, and provides feedback on their performance. As the student practices, the coach provides feedback and makes changes so the student learns the skills they really need. “To ensure effective learning, subjects ideally should be given explicit instructions about the best method and be supervised by a teacher to allow individualized feedback, and remedial part training,” according to Ericsson et al.
Based on the feedback, the student might move forward to mastering another skill or they might move back to improve a previously learned skill. “In the absence of adequate feedback, efficient learning is impossible and improvement only minimal even for highly motivated subjects,” said Ericsson and his colleagues. The guiding role of the coach is crucial for the student’s learning.
Deliberate practice requires the student’s full attention and focus. In Ericsson’s studies, he has found that this level of concentration can only be maintained for a specific amount of time, and that continuing deliberate practice beyond that time is ineffective. The violinists that he studied could maintain the effort for approximately four to five hours. Beyond that, their continued practice was not improving their skills. The most effective method is to set aside two hours in the morning for deliberate practice.
We need to designate time for deliberate practice and also designate time for breaks and leisure time. This will allow us to avoid the exhaustion that sustained effort can cause.