“If you’re not practicing, somebody else is, somewhere, and he’ll be ready to take your job.” – Brooks Robinson, Former Professional Baseball Player
“We’re talking about practice!” Former NBA all-star guard Allen Iverson ranted about the criticism to him missing practices. “. . . I mean, listen, we’re sitting here talking about practice, not a game. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last, but we’re talking about practice, man.” Iverson continued with incredulity and his token charm. Iverson wanted to believe that his skill outweighed practicing, but in truth – practice does matter.
Good is the enemy of great, and practice is often the deciding factor between the two. You grow in practice. You risk in practice. You win in practice. To achieve anything of value in life, it is going to take commitment and work – and not just in the performance, but also in practice.
What does it take to be better than good – to turn yourself into someone exceptional? In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell states that “Achievement is talent plus preparation….Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.
So how do you get good – and then better? As Oscar Hammerstein II famously wrote in The Sound of Music, you need to start at the very beginning. Every great guitarist began by learning a one-finger G chord and every basketball player had to learn to dribble. And those skills you learn in practice.
HOW TO MAKE PRACTICE MAKE YOU BETTER
- Practice with attitude: a positive attitude that says this is a goal worth striving for, worthy of your commitment. There certainly will be failures along the way, but they will ultimately lead to wonderful successes.
- Persistent practice: It’s not just talent. Studies have shown that talent plays a limited role in achieving success. The most referred to number for true expertise is ten thousand hours, arrived at through Malcolm Gladwell’s research that studied several highly successful people and their work history and habits: Bill Gates and Microsoft, violinists in Germany, and The Beatles, who burst onto the scene in 1964, but not before performing in Hamburg, Germany, hour after hour, night after night, creating that sound that made them so (and still today) famous.
- Passionate practice: Just putting in ten thousand hours of scales and arpeggios won’t make you an expert pianist. Good, focused, attentive practice will make you better, but you still need that added ingredient of passion for making those hours truly meaningful.
In theatre, we have a very bad word called ‘marking.’ It’s when someone knows their lines in rehearsal, knows their blocking, but they are not giving everything (usually anything) to the moment – they are ‘marking’ through the rehearsal.
I remember an American Family Insurance commercial featuring Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson, while tossing a football in the air, said, “Talent’s just practice and practice. Attempt after attempt after attempt – all day – every day. That’s it.” It is the passion and the persistence, and positive attitude that all add up to making you better.