Revisiting Deliberate Practice
If you have been following along with what I have been sharing the past couple of weeks on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, you’ll see what I’ve spent quite a deal of time discussing deliberate practice. I first discussed the topic a few years ago. I’ve written about it in the past and shared some insight, but I didn’t really speak about the research behind the topic.
In his book Peak, Dr. Anders Ericsson introduced us to the term deliberate practice and the research behind the topic. Over the course of his research career, Dr. Ericsson focused his time on studying experts in the fields of music, medicine, athletics, education, and business. What he discovered was that contrary to the 10,000 hour rule made famous by Malcolm Gladwell, was that the quality of the time spent practicing a specific skill was more important than the total amount of hours spent practicing that specific skill.
Essentially Dr. Ericsson’s research suggests that quality, and not necessarily quantity, is what will give individuals the best opportunity to become experts in their chosen fields.
I find Dr. Ericsson’s research is rather interesting. It may go against some societal norms that suggest how much time we spend on something is going to produce higher quality results compared to the time spent on trying to accomplish something.
Dan Chambliss found similarities in his research that examined national caliber swimmers training for the 1984 Olympic Games. Dr. Chambliss found that when a group of like minded individuals (swimmers) are completing the same tasks (mundane) in a highly competitive environment (Mission Viejo) over a long period of time (Olympic Quad) with consistent feedback and refinement from their coach, they give themselves a better opportunity to achieve their goal (qualify for an Olympic team) compared to their peers that may be missing an ingredient from the recipe shared.
Fast forward 20 years and similar ingredients were brought together to help a different recipe take shape, qualifying for the Olympic Games in track and field. A group of elite level throwers were brought together in 2001/2002 with the aspirations of representing Canada and the United States in the shot-put, hammer, and discus events in international competition. This group was called Ashland Elite. Their coach was 4x Olympian Jud Logan. This group of like minded individuals (throwers) were following similar training plans (mundane) in a highly competitive environment (Ashland Elite; Ashland, OH) over a long period of time (Olympic quads) with consistent feedback and refinement from Jud. This training group produced Olympic Games qualifiers in Kibwe Johnson (2012, 2016) and A.G. Kruger (2004, 2008, 2012) in the hammer throw. Derek and Joe Woodske represented Canada in international competition in the hammer throw. Crystal (Smith) Johnson also represented Canada in international competition in the hammer throw. Adriane (Blewitt) Wilson competed at the 2004, 2008, and 2012 Olympic Trials in the shot-put and has gone on to win 5 world championships in the Highland Games. The right combination of ingredients were mixed together that ended up producing quite a potent recipe for athlete success.
When replicated under different training conditions (track and field-throwing and swimming) similar athlete outcomes are achieved. It is certainly a conversation for a different day, but under the right circumstances with a determined end result high level athletes tend to achieve their goals. In these two examples, the end results were representing their respective countries in international competition. On the surface it seems like an easy recipe to put together. A difficult ingredient to measure out is sacrifice, the willingness to put other aspirations (life) on hold long enough for one to achieve their unique and specific goal.
Anders, Dan, and Jud all shared similar outlooks when it came to what it took to reach a certain level of elite status as an athlete. They understood that under the right conditions and quality amounts of time that elite athletes would be better able to achieve their goals. Now it isn’t to say that elite level athletes training alone won’t achieve their goals, but training with a group under the watchful eye of a coach gives the athletes a better chance. It makes sense considering that there are Olympic training centers around the United States (Chula Vista, CA, Colorado Springs, CO, Geneva, OH, and Lake Placid, NY) in place to give elite athletes the opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games. When referring back to our figure on deliberate practice, the Olympic training centers are all following the same pattern, bringing together elite athletes so that they can 100% focus on their goals under the watchful eyes of coaches that give the athletes the best possible opportunities to qualify for an Olympic Games.
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Dr. Charles Infurna
Charles Infurna, Ed.D., is the owner and lead coach of Forza Athletics Track Club. Dr. Infurna has coached National Record Holders, National Champions, All-Americans, and Conference Champions at the Post-Collegiate, Collegiate, and High School level.