Time To Talk About Practice

“We talking bout practice man, how silly is that?”-Allen Iverson

Yes, Allen, we’re talking about practice because practice is important and I exist to talk about the unimportant important stuff.

So the point of this post is to help answer the age old question:

Am I good because I was born this way (word to Lady Gaga) or am I good because I worked hard?

Both, in an abstract way, are pretty messed up if you think about it.

The first layer of reasoning in the case of pure natural talent. You’re good at something that you didn’t have to work that hard at. More importantly, you’re better at something than someone who’s worked more than you, sometimes by a significant margin. This just highlights the blatant inequities of the world. But if you want to dig a little bit deeper you may think to yourself:

“What if I’m the person who has to work harder?”

What if you picked the proverbial short straw and your limits are forever limited by what you can’t control.


By this point, the hard work ethos may sound more attractive to you because you put your blood sweat and tears.

Or, as Winston Churchill would say “[your] blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Which doesn’t sound as nice but you do you, Winston. 

So let’s say for some reason or another your prefer thinking that your success is a result of your hard work, such is your predilection. Let me tell you why that’s messed up.

This line of thinking means you are not special in any way shape or form and the only reason you have said success is due to something that is easily duplicable by somebody else with the sole caveat that they actually have to try.

Yikes 2.0.

I’m going to break this post down into a series of thoughts which are loosely correlated. Which is a new format for me so let’s see how this goes.

Thought #1:

There is an interesting dichotomy when it comes to practice.

Practicing suffers heavily from diminishing marginal returns of time. Meaning that the more you spend working on a particular skill, the less output you get per extra hour work.

For instance, Steph Curry practicing his 3 point shot for [insert insane amount here] means that he’s not developing his skill anymore, it’s as good as its ever going to be, but he practices just to maintain his ability not to add to it.

One the other hand, when you go to the gym your first year leads to the most “maximum gainz” and this decreased as the years fade.

This leads to an interesting implication, which is that over a period of time the performance gap. Which was previously formed because of practice will slowly be eroded with time.

But this is somewhat mitigated by the compounding effect. Which is a fancy way of saying that, the more you practice over time the effect of training over an nth number of years will lead to an insane amount of gainz.

Thought #2:

The myth of the 10,000 rule is something that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. I mean why should it? It tells you that the only difference between you and your aspirations is work.

But I never understood two things about this theory:

-Firstly, wouldn’t this then imply that the reason you aren’t as good or great as you’d like to be is due to your inaction?

-Secondly, the 10,000 hours or the 10^4 hours rule was first brought into the public’s consciousness in the book Outliers. In said book, this theory came with one of the biggest disclaimers I’ve ever seen. Which went along the lines “if you have a necessary baseline of talent and then put 10,000 of work in then you’d become exceptional”. This rule is meant to be the difference when comparing Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, not you and the athlete you see on TV.

Thought #3:

If you look at any current Olympic record or any physical/mental record now and compare it with those of yesteryear one would jump to the conclusion that we’ve evolved to a higher form of being.

One of my favorite examples of this, which kind of get’s blown out of proportion in a motivational sense, is Roger Bannister and the 4-minute mile. Before him running said mile the consensus du jour was that it was not physically possible for a person of the human race to run a mile in under 4 minutes. But nowadays good high school athletes run this, and it’s not a big deal.

One of the primary hypothesis as to why things like this happen is because of things such as better shoes, surfaces and what not, but also because we got better at learning/teaching how to run and we also know more about the human physique thereby making us acutely aware on how to boost performance.

Although that accounts for the differential in results across generations that shouldn’t matter with people living in the same moment of history. This is if we make (what I consider) to be a fair assumption by stating most of the people within a generation have access to relatively equal resources.

If we take the assumptions I just made as true this would imply that although the average level of talent is being raised every year, the distribution of talent remains unaltered. Meaning that the best individuals who work the hardest will still be better than the average but both are increasing every year, but the differential remains the same.

But if we take an average athlete today and send him back 100 years we’d consider him of the same ilk as Hercules and Thor.

Thought #4:

A lot of what we know about practice shouldn’t be applied to sports for a plethora of different reasons. But for the sake of word count, I’m going to talk about two of them.

A lot of the literature which has to do with practice focuses on the infinite malleability of the brain and how deliberate practice (more on that later) is what allows you to be great at certain things. But what sometimes gets overlooked in sports is the idea that although our minds can make us do great things, there is a finite physical limit of what we can do. This is especially prevalent when it comes to explosive sports where success is directly correlated with how fast you can run, how high you can jump, so on and so forth.

A prime example of this phenomenon would be track and field. You can be taught since birth how to run but unless you have the physical tools necessary there is a very hard limit as to how much you can excel in said sport no matter how hard you practice. So in sports, like this talent is by far and away the number one determinant of success.

Also, if you think about it, when you are younger the differential in skill between two people playing a sport is negligible as compared to the differential in athleticism. So at a younger age, those who are more physically developed are more likely to get playing time and practice time creating a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thought #5:

A lot has made of deliberate practice which is a very specific way one would seek to improve.

An example of deliberate practice would be trying to improve one’s free throw stroke by first practicing keeping one’s elbow tucked, then the extension of one’s arm, then the backspin of the ball,  and then the arc of the shot. As you can probably tell this type of practice is incredibly tedious and grueling.

But hey it works! You can overcome the talent barrier with this form of practice!

A lot of successful runners, swimmers, whatever and whatever use this, whether they know it or not, and they credit this with being the difference in their careers.

But deliberate practice, unlike other forms of practice, is not widely used or known. Therefore it’s very much within the realm of possibility that the reason why people are successful is because they use deliberate practice, or more precisely because other’s are not using deliberate practice.

This is further confounded if you think about it through the prism of game theory. The reason why deliberate practice is so successful is because not many people use it. Therefore if it were to become a social norm, it would be less successful, and the talent gap is still very much present.


Hope you guys learned a thing or two

Shami out

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