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Coaching & Development, Performance | Sep 14, 2020
In this excerpt from The Best: How Athletes Are Made, Mark Williams and Tim Wigmore challenge long-held assumptions around practice and explore what science tells us about effective practice and instruction.

In a recently published book entitled The Best: How Elite Athletes are Made, we explore the science behind how the best athletes are developed.


By Mark Williams and Tim Wigmore

We combine contemporary sports science research with compelling narratives from some of the best athletes in the world, including Steph Curry, Marcus Rashford and Elena Della Donna.

In the book, our mission is to highlight the crucial factors that impact on why some athletes reach the very top in their sport and others fall short of this pinnacle. We dispel myths and rely on science to illuminate compelling questions about elite athlete development.

Here, we present Chapter 17, where we examine what science tells us about effective practice and instruction in sport. Notably, we explore whether the often used idiom ‘practice makes perfect’ actually stands up to scrutiny.

The notion that ‘practice makes perfect’ is based on two fundamental assumptions. First, the more one practices the better one becomes. Second, the more consistent and repetitive the practice the better that skills are learnt and replicated; that is, the assumption is that ‘perfect practice makes perfect’.

Yet, the scientific evidence shows that these assumptions are false. In fact, rather paradoxically, not only are these assumptions incorrect, but frankly if applied they could have a negative effect on skill development.

We explore these assumptions below and along the way dispel a few common myths.

In Chapter 17, the authors explore how coaching has changed over recent decades as practitioners have become more aware of the key distinction between performance and learning.

Notably, while instructional approaches that are very ‘hands on’ and prescriptive in nature lead to short-term performance benefits, rather paradoxically, more ‘hands off’ approaches that involve the learner to a greater extent in the process of practice lead to greater transfer of learning and improved skill retention.

By combining original interview material from Danny Kerry (an Olympic Gold Medal-winning coach with GB Hockey), Phil Kenyon (one of the world’s leading golf putting coaches), Isaac Guerrero (Head of Coaching at Barcelona FC) and experienced football coach Roy Hodgson, with cutting edge science, the chapter highlights the importance of modern science combined with the coach’s craft knowledge in optimizing the returns to be gained from practice.

The Best: How Elite Athletes are Made is available now from Hachette.


Any questions for co-author Mark Williams? Feel free to drop him a line.

Email: [email protected]

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