In Sports, Practice Doesn’t Always Make Perfect

By Ryan Halvorson
Aug 18, 2016

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.

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