What exactly is perfect practice?

Episode 14 of Part 1 of our Introduction series: Setting the stage for success.

Habits:  Little and regular | Growth mindset

Skills:  Practice | Mindfulness

Description:  This episode introduces the concept of perfect or deliberate practice. Sometimes also called specialized practice. We begin by introducing K. Anders Ericsson's 10,000 hour rule, as the reason for focusing on practice, and explain that practice time alone is not enough – practice must also be effective in order to achieve genius or world-class results. We outline the 4 key steps to ensuring perfect practice.

How this lesson might be discussed with your child

This episode introduces the idea of perfect or deliberate practice, and seeks to explain the difference between working, and deliberately working to improve. You might call it a lesson on working smarter not harder.

We describe the 4 steps to meeting the standard of perfect or deliberate practice:

  1. Have a goal for each practice session.

  2. Be completely focused on your practice.

  3. Ensure you receive immediate and useful feedback.

  4. The three R's: Repeat, Reflect and Refine.

This episode also introduces K. Anders Ericsson's concept that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything, a concept made popular in Malcolm Gladwell's 'Outliers' in which he introduced 'The 10,000 Hour Rule'.

Prompts for discussion include:

  • Do you think it's possible to become an expert in less than 10,000 hours?

  • Can you think of anyone who is a world-expert who has spent less than 10,000 hours on their craft?

  • Whenever you practice, do you follow any of the 4 steps of perfect practice?

  • How do you think your performance would improve if you did?

  • How difficult do you think it would be to change your practice to perfect practice?

  • Which of the 4 steps of perfect practice do you find most difficult? Why?

  • Do you think knowing these 4 steps will help you to improve in an area you'd like to improve in?

  • Are there other areas of your life that you could apply the perfect practice approach to?

Some specific discussion points

Discussion of any literary works, historical figures, or current events featuring prominent individuals offers an opportunity to discuss the amount of time that individuals have spend mastering their crafts. From Mozart, to Picasso, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Daniel Carter, Pythagoras or Bill Gates.

Some possible questions may include:

  • Thinking of someone who you believe to be a world expert in anything, do you believe they spent 10,000 hours to become so?

  • How does the 10,000 hour rule align to Laszlo Polgar's theory that 'A genius is not born but educated and trained'?

  • In thinking about something you'd like to be an expert in, how many hours do you think you've spent in deliberate or perfect practice so far?

  • Does knowing the 10,000 hour rule feel good (i.e. it's made it seem possible to be the best in anything), or scary (i.e. it's overwhelming to think of how many hours it will take to get that good)?

  • What do you think allows experts to stay focused on one thing for so many hours?

  • Do you think you're capable of focusing on getting better at one thing for 10,000 hours?

Discussing the quote from this episode:

"Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." — Vince Lombardi

Possible areas of discussion may include:

  • Do you agree with this statement? Why/Why not?

  • Why do you think that Vince Lombardi believes perfect practice makes such a difference?

  • Why do you think that ordinary 'practice does not make perfect'?

Further information on this topic

If you'd like to dive a bit deeper on this topic, you might be interested in watching:


Anders Ericsson – The Science of Expertise: Interview with Larry King.


Or you might like to read:

Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise
by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, 2016

Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better
by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi, 2012.

Outliers: The Story of Success
by Malcolm Gladwell, 2008.