What does practice really make… perfect?

I can’t remember the first time that I heard the term, “Practice makes perfect.” The term is synonymous with progression, or anything that takes time.  Anytime you are trying to get better at something, you hear it.  From your coach, your parents, and friends, “Practice makes perfect.”  As they slightly shake their heads from side to side with a slight grin.  Practice makes perfect.  Really what does this even mean?

Google defines perfect as:

Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it possible to be.

Absolute, Complete!

Perfect, sounds impossible.  I personally believe nothing is impossible.  Yet perfect sounds like something that even the Greats (Michael Jordan, Jerry Rice, and Wayne Gretzky) knew was impossible.  However, I believe that is what they were shooting for.  Perfect is the target!!! They knew they would never hit the bullseye known as perfect yet, they also knew they could get very close, so they practiced.  They practiced non-stop. They practice as deliberate as they could.

I remember the first time I heard “Practice makes permanent”. Another term many use when describing what practice does.  That credit goes to my soccer coach when I was about 8.  I can’t remember her name or what team I was on.  I definitely was young and soccer was my muse.

Google defines permanent as:

Lasting or intended to last or remain unchanged indefinitely.

Playing soccer was exciting and I wanted to be as great as I could.  She would always say, “You won’t be perfect, but skills can become permanent”.  It is kind of crazy that I still remember that, I haven’t played soccer in years.  I think the last time I played competitive soccer I was about 19.  My skills from that time till now, at 35, is no longer permanent.  I guess I would have to practice.  The basics of soccer are still embedded in my subconscious, which I believe is one of the results of practice.  Non-stop, without break, ritually done, practice.

I heard a story about Stephen Curry a few months back.  It also remains lingering in my subconscious.  I can’t recall where or give credit to the individual that stated the story.  I’m sure it was while I was watching ESPN.  It was during his college days before he become the dominant person that he is today in the NBA.  A group of college players were at a camp, players from different teams.  They had scheduled practices each day.  Practice was roughly 2 to 3 hours and the same time every day.  Each player showed up 10 minutes or so before the practice and went through their routines.  You don’t want to start off tight.

Except one player.  One player was there almost an hour early.  Taking jump shots and running through drills from prior practices.  He did this every day.  By the time practice had started Stephen Curry already took hundreds of shots.  He was now alert, running at the peak of his awareness and ready to absorb everything the coaches prepared.  In the 2 to 3 hour practice he didn’t have a moment lost or a message not received.  Not only was he 1000 shots ahead of everyone else he was also alert from the beginning till the end of practice.  Once practice was over you would expect he was exhausted.  That was not the case.  As everyone left the gym, even the coaches, Curry stayed.  He stayed another hour or so working on the drills and shots again.  Was this an obsession, an overload of passion?  What was he sacrificing?

Simply put this is a person that understands practice and having a goal, Progression! He wanted to reach his greatness!  Think of any person that you believe is great.  Michael Jordan is equivalent with the term Great!  We all know the story of him when he didn’t make his high school basketball team.  What did he do, practiced!  Jerry Rice has a similar story of his deliberate practices.  In an article written by James Clear, author of Transforms Your Habits, he gives an insight to Jerry Rice’s workouts.  The passages are from the book Talent is Overrated, “ He would typically continue practice long after the rest of the team had gone home”.  He continued to speak about his off season practice when most didn’t even work out, “Most remarkable were his six-days-a-week off-season workouts, which he conducted entirely on his own”.  Many state that Rice is the best player to ever play football not just the wide receiver position.

In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he references a study that was done in 1993 on violin players. Specifically the role that practice had on their progression.  All the violin players attended Berlin’s Elite Academy of Music.  Setting a minimal standard of their individual abilities by their acceptance into the academy.  In the study, the violinist were divided into three groups; those with the potential for world class violin playing, those that were good violinist, and finally those that would become teachers one day.

The study of each student started by gathering information from their instructors and directly from the violinist. The information gathered was the amount of practice each violinist participated each week, from the age of 5.  The information lead to a common theme.  Each violinist showed talents beyond average, they were all accepted into the elite academy.  The differences in their levels was directly equivalent with the amount of hours spent each week practicing.  By the age of 20 the world class violinist were practicing over 30 hours a week, with the sole intention of getting better.  Which was drastically different from the two other violinist categories.

Does practice make perfect? I don’t believe that it does. Does practice make permanent?  As long as you practice I believe that it will eventually make most of the skills remain permanent.  I believe practice leads to progression and consistency and progression and consistency definitely lead towards the target of Greatness.  Along that path are tons of sacrifice and obsession over your chosen profession.  When you look back however you will realize that you are no longer part of the mediocrity, you are at the apex of your profession, you are Great.  And if Greatness is really your goal, then really nothing else matters!!!

Practice… deliberate repetitive rituals make a person great nothing else!

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