Child To Champion

Purposeful Practice


Is 10,000 Hours Enough?

Many people drive their car every day to and from work. Week upon week, month upon month, year upon year. Many of these people clock up 10,000 hours of driving but they rarely end up excellent drivers. Many of us cook every day, sometimes two or three times a day, yet rarely do we become world-class chefs. The key to being successful in what you do isn’t just the number of hours but what you do in those hours.

Is purposeful practice taking place during those hours?

Well, what is purposeful practice?

Purposeful practice is a structured activity engaged in with the specific goal of improving performance. This type of practice is different from work, play, and simple repetitions. It requires a physical and mental effort that involves the problem solving of tasks. It also requires feeling uncomfortable and it is not inherently enjoyable.Purposeful practice involves the individual being at optimal flow with the activity. This means not feeling bored or anxious about the task.

Avoid boredom: High Skills vs Low Challenge

Avoid anxiety: Low Skills vs High Challenge

Instead, look for:

High Skills vs High Challenge

Low Skills vs Low Challenge

It is important that the challenge is always slightly greater than the individual’s skills for them to improve at a task.

When an individual is at optimal flow with a task which requires stimulated cognitive effort, improving the individual’s performance and developing their skills, this is called purposeful practice.

 It’s been said that Tiger Woods practised more golf shots by the age of 5 than most golfers have their entire lives.

Consider this, Spartak Moskow an impoverished tennis club in Russia produced more top 20 players on the female side of the tennis game than the whole of the U.S. combined.

However again it wasn’t just the hours, it was the purposeful practice behind these hours.

When observing the tennis players training sessions, many of the sessions would not involve a tennis ball. Instead, the players would play imaginary tennis across a net with a racket in hand but no ball.

Crazy right?

Crazy but purposeful! This method of practice allowed the individuals to tweak bad techniques when holding a racket by breaking down the skill without the ball. In addition, they improved their visualisation skills through the use of imagery play. 

Finally playing without a ball meant more repetitions as there were fewer breaks from gathering the ball. The science shows that the players were still firing off the same neuromuscular signals they would be if a ball was involved, building stronger circuits, and improving their neuromuscular patterns.

We might only see the tip of the iceberg and think ‘he’s Tiger Woods, he’s always been great’ but the truth is we don’t see the purposeful practice that goes on below the tip of the iceberg that develops these genius sports men and women.

About the author

George Green

PGCE Teacher, UEFA B Coach


Twitter: @WorldOfSPCS

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