We bet you’re familiar with the popular phrase “practice makes perfect.” The expression, meant to inspire staying on track toward whatever you’re working toward, can serve as a major motivator while you’re learning how to cook (hello, fall dinner!), play an instrument as an adult or start a new habit. And though it’s a totally awesome reminder to work toward mastery, a recent analysis suggests that it might not actually be true — at least when it comes to sports.
The analysis looked at the relationship between “deliberate practice” (intentionally and repeatedly putting in the time and effort to improve) and actual performance when it came to athletic endeavors. So how much does practice actually matter when it comes to crushing it at sports? Turns out that it varies by your skill level, and it might be WAY LESS than you think.
The author of the analysis, Brooke Macnamara from the Department of Psychological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, shared, “Overall, deliberate practice accounted for 18 percent of the variance in sports performance. However, the contribution differed depending on skill level.” So what does it all mean? Basically, if you take two women’s soccer players and line them up for free kicks, only 18 percent of how awesome they do can be chalked up to the time and effort they put into their practice. Basically, even if you give it everything you’ve got, you may never be as skilled as Alex Morgan. Even more, when it came to top athletes who already perform at a super high level, findings show that deliberate practice only accounted for a jaw-dropping 1 percent of the variance in performance.
So, despite Malcolm Gladwell’s well-known 10,000 hours rule, this info tells us that while practicing can totally help you improve, it *won’t* necessarily make you a master. And if you’re already an elite performer (who may or may not have already spent 10,000 hours practicing to get there), it might not make much of an impact at all. What makes up the difference? As Macnamara explains, there are tons of outside factors that help someone achieve greatness — most of which aren’t in our control. With sports specifically, height, injury proneness, coordination, personality psychology and even learning rates all play a huge part in how successful an athlete may be.
To prove the point further, the analysis shows that sport stars don’t always have more experience either. Though you might think that someone who discovered the game they play early in childhood would be more knowledgeable or better in general from years of playing, it’s not necessarily true. Late comers with natural abilities and a fast learning curve were able to quickly get up to speed.
And when it comes to activities outside of athletics? Macnamara told Vox that advantages for certain people still apply. It’s the same reason your best friend picks up French faster when you study the same material for the exact same amount of time together, or why a brand new guitar player can play music that took you months to learn. Practice helps, but it’s not the only thing that matters.
Remember this though: Not everyone can be a master at everything, but there’s something out there for EVERYONE to be good at. While practice might not necessarily make perfect, it’s a surefire way to become better, and it will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve put in the effort to become your best.
Has practice helped you become successful? Tell us about your experience on Twitter @BritandCo!
(Photos via Getty, h/t Vox)