Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Deliberate practice and mastery

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Deliberate practice and mastery:
How can deliberate practice facilitate mastery?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Michael Jordan is remembered as one of the most successful basketball players ever, but you wouldn't have expected that if you watched him playing high school basketball. Jordan didn't make the varsity team, which led him to become 'ultra-determined' and practice deliberately for several hours a day. He continued this practice for the duration of his long and successful career (Miller et al, 2020).

Learning a new skill can be challenging and frustrating, particularly if you feel you don't have a 'natural' talent for the skill. Perhaps we can learn from the experienced and the talented to develop this same capacity, or at least some semblance of their skills, but how do we learn these skills reliably and efficiently? The principles of deliberate practice were identified by K. Anders Ericsson (1993) through the observation of skilled musicians. Ericsson identified that the type of practice undertaken was directly related to the achievement of expert musical abilities.

Deliberate practice is arguably the central component of achieving mastery, though[grammar?] further research will be required to identify the boundaries of the ideal deliberate practice it is evident that undertaking persistent, deliberate practice positively impacts on motivation which can further drive the achievement of mastery[long sentence].

Personal Reflection: You have no doubt applied some of the principles of deliberate practice in your life, whether it was in study or sport. Consider how these principles might apply if you were learning a new skill such as juggling, or you could reflect on how you practiced to master a complex skill such as driving a car.

Focus questions:

  • What type of practice is 'deliberate'?
  • How much practice is required to achieve mastery?
  • Is deliberate practice effective for work or play?
  • How does deliberate practice affect motivation?

The components of deliberate practice[edit | edit source]

Practice can be a highly repetitive, laissez-faire activity without direction or focus; alternatively it can be clearly focused and directed intentionally toward specific changes which are at the very edge of an individual’s capacity to learn. The type of practice undertaken can have a significant impact on the time taken to develop mastery and even on the maintenance of motivation to develop mastery. As the multiple Australian Football League championship winning coach Ron Barassi stated “Practice makes perfect is bullshit. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” (Powers, 1977)

Naïve practice[edit | edit source]

Naïve practice involves participating in the task without any intention of improvement, such as playing tennis with friends or playing piano for family (Ericsson & Pool, 2016). Numerous hours spent participating in an activity well within your capability are not going to challenge your skills or highlight opportunities for improvement as the practice is conducted predominantly in the comfort zone of the participant.

Structured practice[edit | edit source]

Structured practice involves practicing the task in a structured manner with the intention of improvement, but in an unresponsive manner not directed at the individual’s specific skills needs, such as soccer practice or band practice (Huttermann et al, 2014). Structured practice has significant benefits over the unstructured nature of naïve practice, insofar as cooperate, guided practice gives the opportunity to learn from both the instructor and peers, however, it lacks in the individual feedback directed at skills that challenge the current growth needs of each individual and reflect their individual zones of proximal development (Gillies, 2016).

Purposeful practice[edit | edit source]

Purposeful practice is the undertaking of individual practice with the intent to improve the skill through reflection on performance (Ericsson & Pool, 2016). This type of individual practice is reflective and challenging, [grammar?] it involves regular practice with attentiveness by the trainee to identify areas of weakness as well as retaining a clear goal for mastery. The shortcoming of this type of practice is that is lacks the guidance of an expert in the field that can reduce time spent on practicing skills that don’t reflect a step towards mastery so, for example, a juggler might spend numerous hours practicing 4 ball juggling with 2 balls in each hand which is not an effective stepping stone in learning to juggle 5 balls in a circular (cascade) pattern (see figure 1).

Deliberate practice[edit | edit source]

While each of these other types of practice has some benefit (see table 1) there is additional benefit to be found in the more comprehensive structure identified in deliberate practice. Some fundamental core elements must be utilised, however, to maximise the improvements achieved through deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice involves individualized training under the supervision of an expert, with specific improvement goals that are informed by immediate feedback (Ericsson, 1993). Ericsson and his peers argue that mastery is achieved through this specific type of practice with distinct conditions that have been observed in well-developed fields of mastery such as music and chess. These 5 conditions are (Ericsson, 2020):

1.    A clearly defined task with a well-defined goal that is understood by the student.

  • A learner juggler may for example be instructed to toss a ball to head height and catch in their opposite hand.

2.    The task must be able to be undertaken by the students themselves.

  • A learner juggler would for example need access to juggling clubs if that was included in their training program.

3.    Immediate feedback on the success or failure of the task must be available to the student.

  • The learner juggler may count the number of tosses completed without dropping a ball.

4.    The task must be repeatable many times by the student.

  • Learning to juggle with bowling balls would restrict the repetition of training.

5.    The student must follow the directions for the practice task as designed by an expert teacher.

  • Hours spent entertaining friends with your juggling would not be as effective as structures [grammar?] effortful practice to improve skills at the edge of your capability.

Table 1.

Summary of Practice Types

Practice conditions Naive Structured Purposeful Deliberate
1.   Well defined task and goals No Yes Yes Yes
2.   Student able to complete the task independently Yes No Yes Yes
3.   Immediate individualised expert feedback is provided No No No Yes
4.   Multiple repetitions of the task are completed Yes Yes Yes Yes
5.   Student follows the direction of an expert teacher No Yes No Yes

Table.1, Summary of practice types

Case Study 1 - Terry

Terry wants to learn to juggle. After buying some juggling balls and watching a YouTube tutorial he practices every few days. He sticks to it for a couple of weeks and eventually has the skill to juggle 3 balls without dropping them very often. He is satisfied with his new skills and is happy to show his friends his mastery of juggling.

Ask yourself: What type of practice is Terry practicing?

Figure 1. A juggler demonstrating fundamental juggling skills

Practice that succeeds, practice that fails[edit | edit source]

The concept of deliberate practice was popularised with the publication of Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ (Gladwell, 2008), in which he summarised Ericsson’s original research (Ericsson et al., 1993) by claiming that to become a world expert takes 10,000 hours of practice. While Gladwell popularised the concept, he misinterpreted the duration of practice and oversimplified the principles of deliberate practice to such an extent that almost any type of practice would seem adequate to achieve a world class skillset.

In a study of chess masters it was identified that world class players had conducted between 10,000 and 50,000 hours of practice before achieving the status of chess master (Simon & Chase, 1973). More recent research has observed that chess mastery has been achieved with as little as 730 hours of individual practice and that a greater proportion of individual rather than group practice reduces the time to mastery (Gobet & Campitelli, 2007). Similarly in the field of music it was identified that world class pianists had undertaken between 3,000 and 40,000 hours of practice prior to graduation (Baker & Young, 2014)

Simply describing all practice as equivalent obscures the benefit achieved through deliberate practice. One of the strongest critiques of the principles of deliberate practice was established through a significant meta-analysis of a number of studies across a range of areas of expertise (Macnamara et al., 2014). This analysis identified that deliberate practice accounted for 26% of change in music and as little as 1% of difference in professional fields such as medicine and sales. This limited change needs to be clarified with a reflection on the types of practice undertaken as Macnamara’s study included any type of practice and included practice that was not goal directed and was not supported by a trainer.

Learning through deliberate practice[edit | edit source]

The journey from novice to master is a gradual process of incremental changes accumulating into a foundation for ongoing growth. The challenges in achieving mastery include avoiding stagnation and maintaining motivation throughout the extensive process. Developing an effective stepped learning process that remains challenging but achievable as well as receiving valid, prompt feedback to allow for error correction and adjustment of the process are effective components of this process (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).

Breaking a complex task into a number of separate individually achievable actions can allow a clarity of understanding by the trainee and allows feedback to be directly linked to the performance of the specific task. In a multiple baseline experiment with US footballers the application of behavioural principles had the trainees complete components of a complex task under the observation of an expert coach. Audible feedback was provided immediately upon successful completion of the individual components to reinforce this behaviour. It was observed that delayed verbal feedback did not improve the skill, delayed video and verbal reviews saw an improvement, but the greatest improvement was seen with immediate audible feedback provided on successful delivery of the desired behaviour (Stokes et al., 2010)

Small steps are more directly accessible to feedback, but complex tasks can also be the subject of feedback. In a UK study involving first year doctors it was observed that in a 4 month medication prescription training program those participants receiving immediate feedback with a deliberate practice approach reduced error rates to a level approximately 25% below experienced clinicians, while those not receiving feedback made error rates approximately 30% above experienced clinicians (Green et al., 2020). These tasks can then be chained into a complex process with feedback directed at successful chaining (Levy et al., 2016)

Another important factor is the ability to adjust the learning components in a manner that reflects the trainee's current capacity while remaining on the path to mastery. In an experiment involving suturing skill development in medical students it was shown that skill retention was poor when the student received automated feedback or generic expert advice, but skill retention was significant when the participant received immediate, specific expert feedback on their suturing technique. (Porte et al., 2006)

What can be mastered with deliberate practice?[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Sports[edit | edit source]

The application of deliberate practice in sports seems like a natural match, however, there has been limited success in successful practical implementation. Macnamara (2014) identified that deliberate practice only accounted for 18% of improvement across a range of sporting studies, though the types of practice were predominantly identified subsequently as structured practice such as team training, rather than comprehensive deliberate practice such as individually coached training (Ericsson, 2019). The importance of implementing all of the conditions of deliberate practice was demonstrated in a study of college basketballers where it was observed that the more elements of deliberate practice that are included in a training program the better the skills of participants become (Cleary et al., 2006)

Business[edit | edit source]

The nature of a particular business environment may be a factor in the justification to implement a deliberate practice program. A German study of 132 small businesses observed that deliberate practice increased productivity in dynamic business environments, while there was no positive effect in stable business environments (Keith et al., 2015). Comparatively a study of insurance agents identified that the current use of deliberate practice improved supervisor work ratings, though the cumulative practice time using deliberate practice was not correlated with work ratings (Sonnentag & Kleine, 2000). A potential extrapolation of these results is the benefit of deliberate practice in meeting changing demands in a business environment.

Maths[edit | edit source]

The clearly defined processes and well developed levels of expertise in the field of mathematics makes it an excellent comparator with the deliberate practice benefits demonstrated in music. The delivery of mathematics instruction in a class environment may form a component of instruction and practice, however, the inclusion of individualized effortful practice is significantly more effective (Lehtinen et al., 2017). Furthermore, the inclusion of prompt feedback and multiple repetition to achieve all conditions of deliberate practice is even more successful (Eskreis-Winkler et al., 2016).

Medicine[edit | edit source]

Traditionally, surgical training is challenging due to the combination of complex technical processes and the limited capacity to train prior to involvement in a process with significant risk potential. Current training is moving to a simulated environment with the potential for more repetition and less direct supervision, though it has been observed that the immediate feedback of an expert increases accuracy more quickly and more precisely than self-reviewed video feedback by participants (Porte et al., 2006). Thus, exchanging the deliberate practice criteria of repetition and supervision is not as effective as the accumulation of both.

The complexity of surgical tasks challenges the capacity for students to learn the whole task as a single action. In a study of surgical interns it was observed that an expert separating the task into achievable steps for the students to practice had a significant impact on the speed and accuracy of learning (Levy et al., 2016). Breaking tasks down into challenging but achievable steps demonstrates the connection in theoretical frameworks with Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Kneebone et al., 2004) (see figure 2)

Counselling[edit | edit source]

The level of expertise in clinical mental health work is possibly best measured by client outcomes, but should confidence in a clinician be founded on years of practice or the type of practice they have been undertaking? The correlation between years in practice, confidence and outcomes indicate that while confidence continues to gradually climb over a clinicians career (Saltzman, 2010), outcomes initially climb then gradually decline (Miller & Hubble, 2016). The implementation of a deliberate practice framework in a clinical setting involving immediate client feedback and expert supervision correlate with a persistent improvement in client outcomes (Goldberg, 2016)

The constraints of deliberate practice[edit | edit source]

Deliberate practice has 3 identified constraints (Ericsson et al., 1993).

Effort constraint[edit | edit source]

The physical limitations of injury susceptibility in the pursuit of mastery in sporting endeavors are well documented, though similar limitations appear in music as well as purely cognitive pursuits such as mathematics. Several studies have identified that effortful pursuit of mastery has declining benefits when pursued for more than an hour a day, negligible benefit beyond 4 hours per day and a negative impact if pursued for 8 hours per day. There also appears to be an acclimatisation period whereby new practitioners benefit from gradually increasing their practice hours from limited short sessions per week until they are capable of maintaining effort for extended periods every day (Ericsson et al., 1993).

Resource constraint[edit | edit source]

Access to suitable resources can be a significant impediment to completing regular practice. Swimmers need a pool, and young swimmers need a lift from mum or dad, coaches cost money and the expenditure of time on training instead of school also has a cost. (Ericsson et al., 1993)

Motivational constraint[edit | edit source]

Achieving mastery through deliberate practice is, by any measure, a long-term investment because DP is not intrinsically enjoyable due to its effortful nature (Ericsson et al., 1993). For deliberate practice to become a persistent behaviour there must therefore be some persistent motivation.

The motivation for deliberate practice[edit | edit source]

Maintaining the persistence, direction and energy required to undertake thousands of hours of effortful practice appears to be a common trait, as few people who commence an activity go on to participate in even a fraction of this activity (Ericsson et al., 1993). There has been some reflection on the connection between deliberate practice, grit and a growth mindset (McClendon et al., 2017) however, these trait features can not explain the results from numerous randomized control trials of deliberate practice (Ericsson, 2020). The feedback which is a condition of deliberate practice may be a more likely influencer of motivation.

Feedback to a participant which is provided regularly against an identified standard with both positive and negative components, delivered by an expert increased the intrinsic motivation of adolescent athletes in a longitudinal study (Vink et al., 2015). This relationship between intrinsic motivation and deliberate practice was bidirectional, indicating that intrinsic motivation will improve an individual’s potential to commence and proceed with a program of deliberate practice, and that the feedback provided through deliberate practice reinforces the intrinsic motivation. One potential justification for this intrinsic motivation connection is self-determination theory.

Meeting the needs of competence, autonomy and relatedness through the use of deliberate practice could increase the potential for increased intrinsic motivation according to the principles of self-determination theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). In a study of music students, it was observed that increased autonomy relating to practice duration and structure led to increased participation in deliberate practice (Evans & Bonneville-Roussy, 2016). A study of psychotherapists identified that competency feedback relating to changes in client outcomes increased participation in deliberate practice activities (Goldberg et al., 2016). Similarly, in a 15 year study of soccer players it was identified that needs satisfaction, including relatedness increased with the application of deliberate practice (Verner-Filion et al., 2017).

Case Study 2 - Tony

Tony wants to learn to juggle. He sees a street performer juggling 6 knives. He watches a video of the street performer and then gets a collection of knives from the kitchen.

Ask yourself: Is Tony likely to continue practicing juggling after his first attempt? What could Tony do to improve his chance of mastering juggling?

Figure 2. A juggler demonstrating advanced juggling skills

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Deliberate practice can facilitate the development of mastery through the repetition of skills which progress from general approximations of a skill to mastery through error correction by expert feedback (Levy et al., 2016). Deliberate practice is a specific form of practice that is a fundamental element of achieving mastery. Successful practice meets five conditions:

1.   Well defined task and goals

2.   Student able to complete the task independently

3.   Immediate individualised expert feedback is provided

4.   Multiple repetitions of the task are completed

5.   Student follows the direction of an expert teacher

While it may be difficult to access all of these elements, there is benefit in using as many of these elements as practicable to achieve the best progress towards mastery (Ericsson, 2019).

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Baker, J., & Young, B. (2014). 20 years later: Deliberate practice and the development of expertise in sport. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 7(1), 135-157.

Campitelli, G., & Gobet, F. (2011). Deliberate practice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(5), 280-285.

Cleary, T. J., Zimmerman, B. J., & Keating, T. (2006). Training physical education students to self-regulate during basketball free throw practice. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 77(2), 251-262.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.

Ericsson, K. A., and Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin & Harcourt.

Ericsson, K. A., & Harwell, K. W. (2019). Deliberate practice and proposed limits on the effects of practice on the acquisition of expert performance: Why the original definition matters and recommendations for future research. Frontiers in Psychology, 10.

Ericsson, K. A. (2020). Given that the detailed original criteria for deliberate practice have not changed, could the understanding of this complex concept have improved over time? A response to Macnamara and Hambrick (2020). Psychological Research.

Eskreis-Winkler, L., Shulman, E. P., Young, V., Tsukayama, E., Brunwasser, S. M., & Duckworth, A. L. (2016). Using wise interventions to motivate deliberate practice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(5), 728-744.

Evans, P., & Bonneville-Roussy, A. (2016). Self-determined motivation for practice in university music students. Psychology of Music, 44(5), 1095-1110.

Gillies, R. (2016). Cooperative learning: Review of research and practice. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 41(3), 39-54.

Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The Story of Success. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Gobet, F., & Campitelli, G. (2007). The role of domain-specific practice, handedness, and starting age in chess. Developmental Psychology, 43(1), 159-172.

Goldberg, S., Babins-Wagner, R., Rousmaniere, T., Berzins, S., Hoyt, W., Whipple, J., Miller, S., & Wampold, B. (2016). Creating a Climate for Therapist Improvement: A Case Study of an Agency Focused on Outcomes and Deliberate Practice. Psychotherapy (Chicago, Ill.), 53(3), 367–375.

Green, W., Shahzad, M. W., Wood, S., Martinez Martinez, M., Baines, A., Navid, A., Jay, R., Whysall, Z., Sandars, J., & Patel, R. (2020). Improving junior doctor medicine prescribing and patient safety: An intervention using personalised, structured, video‐enhanced feedback and deliberate practice. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology.

Hüttermann, S., Memmert, D., and Baker, J. (2014). Understanding the microstructure of practice: training differences between various age classes, expertise levels and sports. Talent Dev. Excell. 6, 17–29

Keith, N., Unger, J. M., Rauch, A., & Frese, M. (2015). Informal learning and entrepreneurial success: A longitudinal study of deliberate practice among small business owners. Applied Psychology, 65(3), 515-540.

Kneebone, R. L., Scott, W., Darzi, A., & Horrocks, M. (2004). Simulation and clinical practice: Strengthening the relationship. Medical Education, 38(10), 1095-1102.

Lehtinen, Erno, et al. “Cultivating Mathematical Skills: From Drill-and-Practice to Deliberate Practice.” ZDM, vol. 49, no. 4, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, Aug. 2017, pp. 625–36, doi:10.1007/s11858-017-0856-6.

Levy, I. M., Pryor, K. W., & McKeon, T. R. (2015). Is teaching simple surgical skills using an operant learning program more effective than teaching by demonstration? Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research®, 474(4), 945-955.

Macnamara, B. N., Hambrick, D. Z., and Oswald, F. L. (2014). Deliberate practice and performance in music, games, sports, education, and professions: a meta-analysis. Psychol. Sci. 25, 1608–1618. doi: 10.1177/0956797614535810

McClendon, C., Massey Neugebauer, R., & King, A. (2017). Grit, growth mindset, and deliberate practice in online learning. Journal of Instructional Research, 6(1).

Miller, S. D., & Hubble, M. A. (2016). The road to mastery. Techniques for the Couple Therapist, 15-18.

Miller, S. D., Hubble, M. A., & Chow, D. (2020). Better results: Using deliberate practice to improve therapeutic effectiveness. American Psychological Association.

Porte, M. C., Xeroulis, G., Reznick, R. K., & Dubrowski, A. (2007). Verbal feedback from an expert is more effective than self-accessed feedback about motion efficiency in learning new surgical skills. The American Journal of Surgery, 193(1), 105-110.

Powers, J. (1977). The coach: A season with Ron Barassi. Slattery Media

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Saltzman, C. (2010). How psychotherapists develop: A study of therapeutic work and professional growth. Psychodynamic Practice, 16(4), 469-472.

Sonnentag, S., & Kleine, B. M. (2000). Deliberate practice at work: A study with insurance agents. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 73(1), 87-102.

Stokes, J. V., Luiselli, J. K., Reed, D. D., & Fleming, R. K. (2010). Behaviioral coaching to improve offensive line pass-blocking skills of high school football athletes. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 43(3), 463-472.

Verner-Filion, J., Vallerand, R. J., Amiot, C. E., & Mocanu, I. (2017). The two roads from passion to sport performance and psychological well-being: The mediating role of need satisfaction, deliberate practice, and achievement goals. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 30, 19-29.

Vink, K., Raudsepp, L., & Kais, K. (2015). Intrinsic motivation and individual deliberate practice are reciprocally related: Evidence from a longitudinal study of adolescent team sport athletes. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 16, 1–6.

External links[edit | edit source]

Anders Ericsson (Youtube)

Learning and Performance (Ted Talk)