The old adage “Practice makes perfect” may not apply to sports performance. New research suggests that athletic prowess has little to do with how much a person practices.

The research, published in Perspectives on Psychological Science (2016; 11 [3], 333–50), looked at 52 sets of data that focused on practice and performance. According to the investigation, “Deliberate practice accounted for 18% of the variance in sports performance.” Among elite-level athletes, practice was linked with a 1% variance.

The authors also learned that the age an athlete begins training for a sport isn’t necessarily linked to performance level. They explained, “Athletes who reached a high level of skill did not begin their sport earlier in childhood than lower skill athletes. This finding challenges the notion that higher skill performers tend to start in a sport at a younger age than lower skill performers.”

The researchers theorized that other factors—such as muscle and the amount of oxygen carried by the blood; confidence and performance anxiety; and intelligence and working memory capacity—may influence sports aptitude more than training effort do.

“As we look at multiple factors, I don’t think we’ll ever be able to—with 100% certainty—predict someone’s performance in any activity, not just sports,” stated lead study author Brooke Macnamara, MA, in a press release. “But we can do better than we’re doing now.”

Ryan Halvorson

Ryan Halvorson is an award-winning writer and editor. He is a long-time author and presenter for IDEA Health & Fitness Association, fitness industry consultant and former director of group training for Bird Rock Fit. He is also a Master Trainer for TriggerPoint.

Leave a Comment

When you buy something using the retail links in our content, we may earn a small commission. IDEA Health and Fitness Association does not accept money for editorial reviews. Read more about our Terms & Conditions and our Privacy Policy.