Does practice really make perfect?

2014-05-11 15.49.51Many people I know have trouble learning how to juggle or joggle. I always tell them to practice more, or that “practice makes perfect”. Some of them improve, some of them don’t. After all, I attribute my “success” at joggling to practicing a lot. I do not believe my joggling ability is due to being genetically gifted. On the contrary, as I’ve said many times before on this blog I never excelled at sports and I don’t think I am uniquely well-coordinated. I joggle 5 to 6 times a week, and juggle every day.

Still, as important as practice is, hand-eye coordination is in part genetically determined. The same is true for dance or musical ability. The question is just how big is this genetic component? Or how important is practice? According to this recent study, Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education, and Professions: A Meta-Analysis:

More than 20 years ago, researchers proposed that individual differences in performance in such domains as music, sports, and games largely reflect individual differences in amount of deliberate practice, which was defined as engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a domain. This view is a frequent topic of popular-science writing-but is it supported by empirical evidence? To answer this question, we conducted a meta-analysis covering all major domains in which deliberate practice has been investigated. We found that deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued.

© The Author(s) 2014.

Interesting study. It concludes that while practice is important, it isn’t as important as previously thought. This doesn’t mean you should stop practicing whatever it is you are trying to master, if it often proves challenging for you. It would be ridiculous for someone to give up playing cello just because they’re not as good as Yo-Yo Ma. The same could be said for juggling/joggling. In my opinion, joggling would count as “sport”, and 18% of the variance in joggling performance could be explained by practice, based on the above study.

This is an extremely complex issue, so this study is hardly the final word. I’m sure this study could be interpreted many different ways by people more skilled at reading scientific studies. When it comes to human potential, science at best gives us only a few clues. It is ultimately up to us to find out what we are really capable of.

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3 responses to “Does practice really make perfect?

  1. Posed perhaps rhetorically: why pursue perfection? :)

  2. The fact that you joggle is in itself amazing. I believe everyone has certain skills that come easier, and maybe even some that can’t come at all.

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