Attaining Elite performance

Deliberate practice

Here’s a piece of writing I did for a school assignment a couple months before I started this blog. Coincidentally, I got assigned this topic immediately after I finished two books on the same topic. Wow.

I thought I’d turn it into a blog post as it relates to anything performance: Martial arts, chess, therapy etc. Have a read and let me know what you think. Enjoy -Wu

It should be no surprise that being world class in a domain requires either talent, hard work or a combination of the two. However, ground breaking research done by Ericsson et al. has revolutionized the way we look at and understand talent and attaining eminent performance. Their premise is that world class performance has little to do with simply just hard work and experience, and even less so with innate talent, but rather the 10 year accumulation of a phenomenon called “Deliberate practice”.

What is Deliberate practice?

Maximal level performance is not attained as a result of extended experience, but as a result of deliberate efforts to improve in a certain domain. These efforts, termed “Deliberate Practice”, are the sole deciding factor between individual differences in athletes, even among elite performers. It must be noted that Deliberate Practice is not work or play, in a sense that there is no immediate explicit goal or reward and is not inherently enjoyable, but involves activities specifically designed to maximize improvement.

The phenomenon of Deliberate Practice underlies all elite performance in all fields, from athletics to the arts and sciences. A study of violin players performed by Ericsson et al. showed that when two skill-divided groups of violinists practiced in a similar way, there were no significant differences in current weekly practice hours but only differences in estimated accumulated practice throughout their lives. This finding demonstrates the monotonic relationship between the amounts of time engaged in deliberate practice and acquired performance.

10000 hours

10,000 hours or 10 years of deliberate practice is a general rule for eminent performance in any domain.

How to design practice and attain enhanced performance:

It is not simply the amount, but the type and structure of practice which determines improvement. Mere mindless repetition and/or effort are not good enough either. Consider these points when designing practice for athletes:

1. Brutally Effective at the Basics. To reach the status of an elite athlete, it is necessary to master any pre-existing knowledge and techniques in the chosen sport. This provides a framework from which to draw from in terms of improvisation and creativity of athletic skill.

2. Stay Fresh! True Deliberate Practice is exhausting and can only be sustained for a limited amount of time. If top level performance is desired, avoid exhaustion at all costs as it is counter-productive and will impede future practice. Many world class performers take a nap during mid-afternoon to recharge their batteries. Consider doing this for optimal results. Remember, fresh not fatigue!

3. Challenging, but not impossible. The world’s best describe deliberate practice as challenging and hard, and therefore an easy practice does not qualify as deliberate. Finding the optimal level of difficulty, neither too easy nor too hard, will elicit the greatest results for improvement. If an athlete has begun to master a certain skill, either increase the difficulty or move onto another necessary skill which is challenging. The great ones know how to always put themselves at the edge of ability.

4. Immediate feedback and knowledge of performance. Practicing without feedback is analogous to bowling with the curtain down – you don’t know how to direct your corrections to improve in subsequent rounds of practice.

Efficient learning requires immediate feedback. This lets you know what you are doing right and wrong and lets you determine where to improve. Having a teacher or coach can provide superior method of feedback, not only in the diagnosis of errors and issuing improvement advice, but most notably in imparting the best training methods to their athletes.

And lastly,

5. Repeatability. More rounds of Deliberate Practice means more feedback which accumulates in improvement. 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice require activities which allow them to be done over and over, keeping the other previous four points in mind.

deliberate practice

True deliberate practice forms a continuous feedback loop of testing, feedback, and adjustment repeated many, many times

For further reading on smilar topics in book format, be sure to check out Talent is Overrated & The Talent Code, which relate directly to this idea of deliberate or deep practice, as well as Outliers for a environment/opportunistic approach to success.


Ericsson, K.A., Krampe, R.T., Tesch-Romer, C., (1993). The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.

How will this change your current practice in your chosen activity? What you are eliminating? Comment Below.

As always, I’d love it if you’d add me on facebook or email me and say hi.



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4 responses to “Attaining Elite performance

  1. Pingback: Is your Strength training deliberate? « The KINESIS Project

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    • No, I don’t have a subscription thing yet. I’m not totally committed to blogging but u can follow me on facebook for now. Thanks for the interest thought, I really appreciate it!

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