Deliberate Practice: Achieve Mastery in Anything

With deliberate practice you can become a master of anything. It can be used to increase performance in many areas such as music, sports, and games. To find out how, read on.

The full story
deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is a mindful and highly structured form of learning by doing. It’s a process of continued experimentation to first achieve mastery and eventually full automaticity of a specific skill. A 2014 study published in Psychological Science argues that it can increase our performance by 26% in games, 21% in music and 18% in sports. Here are some tips on how to do it well.

Define Success and Drill Deliberately 
deliberate practice

Define all the elements you need to practice to become successful. Then drill each element deliberately, one after the other. In Tennis, that could be first your serves and then later your leg work. If you want to become a professional barista, first perfect your moves to make the espresso, then your skills to serve the ideal coffee.

Plan, Reflect and Take Notes 
deliberate practice

Plan out your practice routine, for example in a notebook. After each session, reflect and write down what you’ve discovered: what worked? What didn’t? The idea is to get a clear sense of how a particular session improves your skills and then to experiment to find new and even better ways to achieve your goals.

Go Slow 
deliberate practice

To build a good foundation of muscle memory, practice slow and correctly. If we move too fast, we risk learning and internalizing the wrong skills, which can bring terrible consequences. To achieve mastery, our brain needs time to develop. So start slow and then gradually increase the speed until you give all you’ve got.

Limit Your Sessions for Focus 
deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is hard mental work. Limit the sessions to a reasonable duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be 15 minutes if you are younger and 60 minutes if you are older. Cristiano Ronaldo trains around 3-4 hours of football a day. Young Shaolin Monks practice for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. To keep their attention high, they switch the style of practice every 10 minutes.

Maximize Practise Time 
deliberate practice

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to let each of his players practice putting on socks and shoes so that they learn to do it really fast. By doing this, he maximized the time to practice throwing the ball and discussing game strategy with his team.

Track Small Intervals of Improvement 
deliberate practice

If you practice running 800 meters, count the milliseconds, not the minutes. If you are working out or practice controlling your diet, measure milligrams and millimeters. The smaller the data points you measure, the faster you see progress and the more you feel motivated to continue.

Emulate Practice, Not Performance
deliberate practice

The top performance we see on screens or on stage is the result of endless hard work behind the curtain. If you want to become as good as Pavarotti in the Opera or as skillful as Messi with the ball, don’t watch them perform, study how they practice.

Repetition Makes Perfect
deliberate practice

In the 1990s, a team of German psychologists revealed that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become a professional violinist. A similar study concluded it also takes almost as long to become a great cigar maker. New workers in a Cuban cigar factory take around 25 seconds to make one cigar. After 100,000 repetitions, it takes them just 15 seconds and after 1 million only 8. To reach peak performance, it takes 7 years and 10 million repetitions of the same hand movements. Not practice, but repetition makes perfect. Professional football teams, therefore, play daily what the Spanish players call “Rondo”. Piano players warm up with Scales and Arpeggios. 

Routine Is Everything
deliberate practice

To reach mastery, young Shaolin monks get up at 5:30 am. Then chant, eat breakfast and practice two hours of kung fu. At 11:30 they have a vegetarian lunch with no liquids to aid digestion. At around 3 pm, they practice for another two hours. At 5:30 is dinner, followed by chanting. At 8 meditation. At 10 time for bed. Us normal people can start with 15 minutes every day and then slowly increase our session. 

Get a Coach
deliberate practice

The job of a coach is to show us our true potential and then guide us in the right direction. If you don’t have a coach, look for one. It can be a teacher, a friend or even someone you find or follow online. For our favorite teachers and coaches, visit our Sprouts channel page and check out our playlists. 

deliberate practice

The Dalai Lama believes deliberate practice not only works for muscles, but also for our mind. He and other wise minds deliberately practice taking other people’s anger, suspicion and mistrust and then giving them patience, tolerance and compassion in return. What do you think about deliberate practice, can we also use it for training our thinking skills? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

“Your videos can easily motivate any person who is willing to change himself.”

– Manas Singh


Dig deeper

Classroom exercise

Try using some of the key elements of deliberate practice in your classroom to help sculpt your students into master essay writers to help them prepare for future exams and further study. These are just a few ideas on how it can be applied:

Plan, reflect and take notes

Set a clear structure for each essay before starting. What do we need to include? An introduction, a balanced argument and a conclusion? Reflect on each practice session using a technique such as a SOAR or SWOT analysis to help you track your progress and reflect. Identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to your practise session. For example, a threat could be a distraction such as a TV or a noisy environment. What can we do to remove obstacles?

Limit your sessions for focus

Set a timer to give yourself a clear goal for each session. This could be the length of the exam you are preparing for.

Get a coach

Listen to your teacher! They have a wealth of experience in what you are trying to achieve.

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