Practice Makes Performance

The old saying, “practice makes perfect” is not completely accurate. In fact, only perfect practice makes perfect, because the more you practice making mistakes, the better you get at making them.

Princeton University tennis coach, Glenn Michibata said, “I tell my players they have to practice two hours a day to stay the same, and more if they want to get better.” Of course, he’s talking about elite level players. But even for a recreational player, less than two hours, three days a week and one is barely going to maintain a level of performance. He or she will likely not improve with that little practice.

I started thinking about how that applies to the workplace. How often does a manager or leader practice management or leadership skills? How often does a worker practice the skills they need? Some would reply that they’re doing that every minute of the day, and with most putting in over eight hours a day, that’s a lot of practice.

But it’s not practicing the way Michibata’s tennis players do.

Remember, practice does not make perfect – only perfect practice makes perfect. How much of that eight hours is spent practicing the right skills, and how much the wrong ones?

Sticking to the tennis example, do you think that when Michibata’s players practice for two hours, they’re practicing by playing a match? They’re not. Instead, they’re using deliberate practice strategies: They hit serves, then forehands, backhands, volleys, overheads, and then practice footwork. They do drills. In fact, playing a match is a rarity. Why? Because focusing on separate skills allows a player to practice perfectly. And more efficiently.

So, in the workplace, what if managers and leaders or anyone else practiced specific skills, just like tennis players do?

For example:

  • As a leader, one needs to listen, so why not practice listening? Prior to walking into a meeting, remind yourself to focus on listening. Then listen.
  • Practice making decisions – look for opportunities to make decisions in all walks of life. When people ask, “Where do you want to eat?” make the decision.
  • As a manager, one needs to think both tactically and strategically, so why not practice that? When faced with a project, take time to think tactically for a while, and then switch and look at what’s best from a long-term strategic basis.
  • When writing a memo or email, take just a few extra minutes to consider whether you can make it more clear. Practice communicating through writing.
  • As an employee, pick one skill that if you could improve it, would make you a superstar, and focus on practicing it.

    With just a little focused, specific, deliberate practice, your performance could take you to an all-new level. And who knows what impact that would have on your professional and personal life.

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