Jul 052012

practice does not make perfect

Practice Does Not Make Perfect; Practice Makes Permanent.

I was at a soccer (“football” for most outside the United States) training session recently and heard this expression, which I hadn’t heard for a while:  Practice Does Not Make Perfect; Practice Makes Permanent.  It never made much of an impression on me in the past, but this time it really resonated, as I was watching players make the same technical errors over and over again.

The corollary expression is, of course:  Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!  But what is “perfect practice”?

In many cases, as I’ve written elsewhere, perfectionism can be very destructive and can impede you from reaching your goals, rather than helping you get there.  When it comes to practicing correctly though, seeking perfection, in my opinion, is a worthwhile goal.  I have always believed that you will compete the way you practice.  I have seen it time and again in my own athletic endeavors and those of the teams and players I have coached.

Does this same concept apply to business and other endeavors beyond sports?  I would argue that it does.  The most effective and successful business people I know are meticulous about how they “practice” and they are very deliberate in taking note of and adjusting to the feedback they receive from their markets and other constituencies.

The concept of the 10,000 hour rule for becoming an expert and the related idea of deliberate practice have been widely embraced in recent years.  They are often credited to Malcolm Gladwell, as he popularized the ideas in his book Outliers, but they were, in fact, originated by Ericsson and others, many years before.

An important element of “deliberate practice” is feedback.  The idea is that it is not sufficient to just practice for 10,000 hours; rather, in order to become an expert, you must practice deliberately, with feedback, always seeking to correct and improve upon errors you are making.  In other words, you are seeking perfect practice!

So, what is “perfect practice”?

First, notice that nowhere in these concepts is it expected that you will be perfect all the time, in practice or in the “game”.  This is where many athletes and other achievers become confused, I think.  They mistakenly believe that they must be perfect all the time, and if they’re not, they become frustrated and many quit.

As you are practicing and seeking to improve your performance in athletics, business or whatever other endeavor you may undertake, be careful to approach perfection correctly.  Understand that you will not be perfect all the time.  That’s OK!  The key is, rather than becoming frustrated and quitting because you are not perfect all the time, learn from your errors and continue to improve.  See every mistake and “failure” as an opportunity to improve.  That’s “perfect practice” in my opinion.  You put in your best effort.  You don’t slack off, but you also realize that you will make mistakes.  Rather than allowing those mistakes to demoralize you though, you use them as motivation to get better, always seeking “perfection,” but willing to acknowledge that it will always be (slightly, hopefully) out of reach.

Achievers are notoriously hard on themselves and those around them.  That’s OK too, as long as you don’t become so obsessed with perfection that your desire to be perfect ruins your attitude and your chances to become your best.  On the other side of the coin, don’t become lax and allow yourself to be too sloppy in your practice.  Remember, as you practice, so will you perform in competition!  If you’re serious about your sport, your business and your other endeavors, you owe it to yourself to take practice seriously and remember, if you continue to make the same mistakes without correcting them, you will never reach your full potential.

I look forward to your thoughts!  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin



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