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Think Practice Makes Perfect? Oh, No It Doesn’t, Science Says

You want to be great. Really Great. So you have to practice, yes?

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BY Chris Matyszczyk - 15 Aug 2016

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

You're sitting there with your Sauvignon Blanc and your organic goat cheese on organic cracker.

You're gawking at all the wonderful performances at the Olympics.

You're telling yourself: "If only I'd practiced my asymmetric bars a little more and gone to asinine bars a little less."

I'm here to make you feel a little better about yourself.

Though I know that everyone tells children that practice makes perfect, everyone is lying.

Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice just makes a little better and very tired.

Though I know it sounds like the research I'm about to quote was performed by Dr. Allen Iverson of Sixers College, Philadelphia, I can tell you that it actually came from scientists at Michigan State University, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Auckland.

These fine practiced brains looked at 52 studies that had examined the relationship between practice and excellence in sports.

The sportsmen and women they looked at were from the humblest levels to the most exalted.

Oh, those who practiced consistently were on average around 18 percent better than those who didn't.

But the national and international stars -- those whom you cheer, marvel at and wish you were -- for them, practice made very little difference.

"Deliberate practice accounted for only 1 percent of the variance in performance among elite-level performers," say the researchers.

You couldn't have been a contender.

That's the simple truth.

And don't go torturing yourself that if you'd only started playing soccer earlier in your life, you'd have better feet -- and far better hair -- than Messi.

The researchers say: "Another major finding was that athletes who reached a high level of skill did not begin their sport earlier in childhood than lower skill athletes."

I'd like to throw you a bone.

I'm not sure you'll catch it, though, because you only started playing baseball in college.

Still, it seems that in those sports where the player determines when and how their action is to be executed -- golf, for example -- practice might account for as much as 41 percent of their excellence.

These are referred to as "internally paced sports."

But when it comes to soccer (a so-called externally paced sport), oh failed Messi, the most you could have hoped for from deliberate practice was to get 17 percent better.

Because I sense you're good at math these days, you'll be wondering what other factors made up the 83 percent of influence on the creation of an elite striker.

You're not going to like this.

"We conclude that to understand the underpinnings of expertise, researchers must investigate contributions of a broad range of factors, taking into account findings from diverse subdisciplines of psychology (e.g., cognitive psychology, personality psychology) and interdisciplinary areas of research (e.g., sports science)."

Of course, quite a lot of it might merely have been pure talent.

That's just my opinion, you understand.

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