Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

In any sport, coaches talk about it all the time. “Practice how you play, practice makes perfect, to become a master at something, you must practice 10,000 hours at it.” But is that always the case? To the contrary, a recent study said the opposite. A Case Western Reserve University study claims that practice only accounts for 1 percent difference in individual performance and even that starting sports at an earlier age does not necessarily equal success in the sport, contrary to the belief of many soccer moms and obsessive parents across the United States. So how were scientists able to come to this conclusion?

According to the study, the researchers were able to reach this conclusion based on analysis of 52 different data sets looking at how practice translates to performance. While this study would be monumental if true, it seems a bit unrealistic at first. And even if it were proved correct, would it change the culture around youth sports in the US? There is no doubt that many parents would still continue to push their children to be the best at their respective sports, having them “specialize” in a specific sport and pressuring them into joining AAU teams and practicing 7 days a week, year-round.

In general, the study estimated that only 18% of why athletes preform better than others is due to practice. The other 82% can apparently be attributed to other reasons that were not specified. Brooke Macnamara was the lead author of the study and she spoke about a limitation of the study. “The concept of 10,000 hours taps into the American ideal of hard work and dedication leading naturally to excellence. But it does not account for the inherent differences across people and across sports.” So where do these differences come from? According to ScienceAlert, it could come from various intellectual, psychological and genetic factors like muscle mass and memory capacity.

The second main idea from the study was the finding that beginning to play sports at a younger age does not necessarily have an impact on being a higher-skilled athlete further down the road. The findings do contradict prior research by others in the field that say starting sports at a younger age does help athletes. The argument from the CWRU study stated that the mantra of starting youth sports earlier can lead to a burnout as parents are unsure of whether their child even likes the sport. So is there a way to determine whether any of these findings have basis?

The main limitation of Macnamara’s study and the field as a whole is the absence of a mechanism to measure the accuracy of any findings. While parents who are sport-obsessed and want their kids practicing constantly might be unethical, they could still be making the right decisions if they want their child to become an elite athlete in a given sport. While Macnamara thinks that more effort could be put into this research, she admits that there will never be complete certainty as to predicting the future of an athlete, whether it spells failure or success.


They congregate in large numbers at youth sporting events. Link:


Hrala, Josh. “Sorry Guys, Practice Alone Won’t Make You Good at Sports.” ScienceAlert. ScienceAlert, 17 June 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

“Sports Practice Accounts for Just One Percent of the Performance Differences among Elite Athletes.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2016. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.

Picture Link:

2 thoughts on “Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

  1. Alexander Nicholas Cautela

    I think you could have used more material to support your thesis, but maybe that’s because your thesis is not supported by much evidence at all. I do admit that genetics and “natural talent” certainly play a huge role in not only sports, but also other aspects of life. However, the sole fact that you have special genes which increase your odds of having success in your passion DOES NOT actually mean you will do so. Let me tell you a story.
    I have been playing guitar for 2.5 years. My mother comes from a very musical family, but my dad hasn’t taken a huge interest in playing himself. I took piano lessons as a kid, but I wasn’t particularly great. I picked up a couple instruments over the years, but didn’t really develop much skill on them. But I soon picked up the guitar, with childlike excitement and maniacal motivation and quickly developed considerable skill on the instrument. I have played around many skilled guitarists back at home, and I have seen and played with many very skilled guitarists here at Penn State, and honestly, I think I am one of the better guitarists here. Some may attribute it to an genetic inclination to music, which I certainly believe exists, but I attribute it to the countless hours I spend with the damned thing, trying to perfect everything I learn.
    Look, I think the 10,000 hours thing is a bunch of baloney too. It’s just a number. Some people learn faster than others, and besides, “master” is a subjective term. If you find any other articles which support your claim, let me know because your article was not very compelling. Here’s an article which more or less directly refutes your findings:

  2. Alexis Herrington

    I think the topic you chose to write about is interesting but I would suggest using more than one study when posting a blog. Also, something to consider is that there are other confounding variables that go into practice, for example, a good night sleep. Here: is a very interesting study I found online that examines the effect sleep has on the efficiency of training. You will see that it’s not practice that makes perfect, but practice (with sleep) makes perfect.

Leave a Reply