In 1993, Anders Ericsson proposed the theory of deliberate practice. The theory suggested that expertise is largely a product of effortful and organised practice, which he termed “deliberate practice”. This theory led to the 10 thousand hour rule, as popularized by Malcom Gladwell in the book ‘Outliers’.
In recent years there has been heated debate as to how much expertise is actually accounted for by deliberate practice. Critically to sport, Macnamara and colleagues found that deliberate practice only accounted for 1% of the variance that explained elite level performance in their meta-analysis of the sports expertise literature. Additionally, it was revealed that higher level performers did not necessarily start playing earlier in their childhood either.
The findings suggest that a multitude of factors contribute to expertise, including practice quality (as opposed to merely the number of hours practiced), skill transfer (e.g., a Gaelic Football player coming from Ireland to play professional Australian Football) and genetics.
Reply from Anders Ericsson…
In a reply article, Erricsson argued that the assessment by Macnamera et al. inaccurately defined deliberate practice. He claimed that their definition included a wide range of practice activities, and was not specific to the true meaning of deliberate practice. As defined in seminal 1993 article, deliberate practice was considered “deliberate” if practice was effortful, included a clear performance goal, and performance feedback was immediately available.
No doubt the debate on the value of deliberate practice will continue for some time.