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The Art of Practice

There’s an old saying that I’m sure pretty much everyone has heard at least once in their life – practice makes perfect. Is this true however? Does practice really make perfect? Is it not possible for someone to practice something for a very long time, but to practice it in the wrong way? In this instance their practice hasn’t resulted in perfection, but rather a very good example of what not to do. Therefore in order to achieve the desired results such as in sport, more is needed than simply practicing over and over for many hours. A good instructor is critical in achieving good practice. We live in a technological age where information to pretty much everything you can think of it is at your fingertips via the worldwide web. This is especially true as in the case of tutorial videos, especially for sport. A simple YouTube search of `lesson` will bring over 19,000,000 results and it has never been easier to learn a new skill in the comfort of your own home. Surely there is a limit however? You can YouTube `Improve my golf swing lesson` and watch all the videos until you’re blue in the face, but is anything going to compare to going to the driving range, getting an instructor to look at your form and then give you some pointers? The information here is stable, professional and you know the source. Anyone can post anything on YouTube and call it a lesson. I could post a lesson on how to shoot and score from football free kicks, even though I’m fairly certain I couldn’t score a goal even with no other players on the field! Going to an expert and finding a great instructor is crucial in attaining a high level of skill in anything, but especially sport where the difference between a great golf swing and an awful golf swing could be in the smallest of differences to stance or technique. Here only a great instructor can see what you’re doing wrong a correct it, therefore making your practice worthwhile so that you see development and improve in your chosen field. It can go the other way however. Say we decide to teach ourselves how to play golf, or pass a rugby ball. Sure, we might get the basics down, but there will always be a ceiling that we will hit where we won’t improve anymore. In addition to this, we may even teach ourselves bad habits that then need to be undone by a professional coach, wasting time and showing that practice does not always make perfect. Muscle memory plays a huge part in success and once a skill becomes automatic and accurate, this is a great sign you are on the right track. You may have achieved muscle memory playing the golf shot, but it may be incorrect but not automatic, meaning that the brain then has to unlearn what we’ve been doing previously, again showing that practice by no means makes perfect! There are those that are naturally more athletic, with better agility or hand eye coordination, but even these people need to have a great coach on their side, ready to hone that talent and ensure that they become the best that they can be. Coaches play a huge role in shaping athletes and can sometimes teach more than physical skills, but also how to deal with a loss, or how to motivate the team if you are the captain. These skills can’t always be learnt on your own and this is why finding a coach is so important. Practice is needed to be great in anything, especially sport, but this practice needs to be structured correctly, focusing on the right things to ensure that we correctly use muscle memory to our advantage and ensure we are developing in the way that we should. Therefore, practice doesn’t lead to perfect, but perfect practice can.