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When discussing the idea of motor learning, the most common saying to pop into your head is most likely: "Practice makes perfect." It is a time old saying that every athlete has heard at least once. I even said it to many of my own athletes in my time of coaching. But, what no one really seems to know is when. When does practice make perfect? Is it after one day, one month, one year? Perfection in the realm of sports is called the autonomous phase to scholars. This means that an athlete has reached their maximum level of proficiency with a specific skill. (It is important to remember that every athlete is going to have a different maximum level.)
According to studies done in the field of motor learning, professionals say that on average it takes 10 years or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to truly reach perfection or one's maximal proficiency. However, this is not a completely accurate measurement, as you must also think of an athlete's innate ability or natural predispositions towards an activity. For some it may take only 5,000 hours, but others it may be 15,000.
So, a better way to explain to an athlete of when practice makes perfect is to simply expand on the saying. "Practice only makes perfect when the intention is to improve." If an athlete is only going through the motions of a skill and is not focused on constantly improving, no number of hours of practice is ever going to make perfection. There has to be drive, grit, and determination from even the most successful and best athletes to ultimately achieve their perfection. This means not only does an athlete have to prepare and train their body, but also their mind.
A great perspective on this combination of mind and body to create success and perfection with a skill is not an even split. Physical preparedness accounts for approximately 90% of success or perfection, leaving only roughly 10% accountable for mental preparation. "However, it's the most important percentage because it is what controls the 90% of the physical component. It's like owning a Ferrari but not knowing how to drive a manual. You have all the physical power in the world, but no way to control it" (Dr. Marc Cormier, 2020).
Practice makes perfect when you constantly want to improve, and when you have physically and mentally prepared for the task at hand. That is when practice makes perfect.
Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments below!
Articles are generalized information for all athletes. Sport psychology is an amazing tool to help take an athlete to the next level of training and competition by incorporating a new perspective on sport performance.
If interested in private sessions regarding mental performance training, please contact Alisha Barnes.
West Virginia University graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology and Master of Science degree in Sport & Exercise Psychology from University of Kentucky. She currently works with REVEL Gymnastics and extreme sport athletes.