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Will more practice make your child an Olympic medalist?

by Andrew Maisel
image of rings

If only I'd practiced more, I could have been competing in Rio. Hmmm.

If only I'd started younger, I could have been on the medal stand. Hmmm.

Or to paraphrase Marlon Brando's character, Terry, in On the Waterfront, "I coulda been a contender."

Clearly, lots of parents and coaches believe that more sports-specific practice over more years, is the key to success. But that's not necessarily true, at least according to a recent meta-analysis study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

Their review of 33 previous studies indicated that "...deliberate practice accounted for 18% of the variance in sports performance." This difference, however, declined with skill level; at the elite performance level, practice accounted for only 1% of the difference in performance. 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".

What's the take-away? These findings are across individuals, not for an individual. So more practice will help an individual better reach their potential -- it's just that some people have more potential than others. And that with the same amount of practice, some people will advance further.



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