Research Lead: Sport Psychology

“How Experts Practice: A Novel Test of Deliberate Practice Theory”

[Learning and Sport Psychology]

“Practice makes perfect,” as the saying goes, but not all practice is created equal. Researchers point to deliberate practice as a key to learning and high levels of achievement. Deliberate practice is categorized as an activity designed to improve specific aspects of performance, and is often rated as more challenging, more effortful, and less enjoyable than other activities. In an online-first publication in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, Coughlan et al. investigated the ways in which expert and intermediate Gaelic football players differed in aspects of deliberate practice, and the extent to which these differences related to improvement in a kicking task. The expert and intermediate footballers were evaluated based on their ability to perform two types of kicks in a pre-test, acquisition phase (4 practice sessions), post-test, and retention test.

The results revealed that expert players chose to focus more on their weaker of the two kicks, while intermediate players tended to focus on their stronger kick. Both groups showed improvement, from the pre to post-test, on the respective kicks they practiced most, however only experts maintained the improvement in the retention test. This, the authors suggest, may indicate more permanent learning for the experts, and, consistent with predictions of deliberate practice theory, experts were also more likely to find practice more physically and mentally effortful, and less enjoyable. The researchers also found that experts were also more efficient during practice and planned their kicks more often. Overall, the study represents a new way to study the effects of practice in real time, rather than through retrospective reports, and supports the idea that experts engage in practice that is qualitatively different than those with lesser skill.

-For readers new to Gaelic Football check out the video here.