Work, Play, and Deliberate Practice

I have learned, in some cases the hard way, that you can’t see the entire field when you are playing the game. Why do you think coaches are so vital for success in any activity. They help you see the things you can’t. A good coach helps you see the rest of the field, the court, or whatever it is.  They can bring an objective viewpoint to the situation that you can’t see because you are too close or you can’t see because you are engaged in the activity at that time.

I was introduced to the 10,000 hour rule by Malcolm Gladwell in his book titled “Outliers” (The story of success).  In his book Gladwell talks about Anders Ericsson’s extensive research on how to become an elite performer in anything you must devote at least 10,000 hours to this venture.  After reading this years ago, and being reintroduced to it here recently, I have read the research conducted by Ericsson and his team that validates or substantiates the 10,000 hour rule.  The data is pretty convincing and based on the research I can conclude through my own experiences that this 10,000 hour rule is pretty close to being exact.

When involving yourself in any activity you have three options.  You can work at it, play, or have deliberate practice towards tis activity.

Working. When you are working at something, you are working and motivated by some kind of extrinsic motivators.  Such as money, fame, accolades, recognition, winning, etc.  Which means you don’t have time to actually think and fix any mistakes you make while working on this activity.  For example: If I get paid to deliver a speech.  I am not practicing and fixing words, I am just delivering.  I can’t fix or rethink any of what I want to, regardless if I want to or not. Another example:  A baseball player.  They get anywhere from 3-7 at bats per game.  When they are at bat they are just playing, they are not working to get better.  Work alone will not allow you to become elite at any activity, unless you do a lot, and you will not be very good for most of that time.  To be great you must have both work and deliberate practice to be truly elite.

Playing.  When you are engaged in activity for play, you are not working to get any better or improve techniques, you are just playing for the fun of it.  This is fine and is required, but there is only one way to get better and improve your performance.

Deliberate practice.  This is when you deliberately practice and work on enhancing the skills and competencies you understand while pursuing areas of your skills for a desired activity that you are not very good at it.  Which means you are consciously practicing for improved performance.  A more comprehensive approach to deliberate practice is to have a coach, mentor, teacher, etc. that actually helps you to work in each of the areas that make up the activity in which you are engaged. This is when and only when you can improve performance.

After much research on this topic I am convinced that most people (I see it daily) prefer and spend most of their time and approach in life, in the area of work when it comes to an activity.  Which means they are practicing while they are working, they don’t do anything outside of that to improve performance.  They think or believe that their performance will improve by the fact that they are practicing while they are working. I guess it kind of reminds me of “practice what you preach” which means don’t say something that you don’t do yourself.

I personally see this in leadership quite often.  They say “I am a leader” I inspire others I empower others, I recognize others, so I must be a great leader.  This is one piece of the equation of good leadership, but the other piece of leadership is coaching for improved performance and the only way to increase a person’s performance is by helping them enhance their own skills on the job, as well as in their life. Someone once said that leaders help a person see something in themselves that they don’t or can’t see.  That goes back to coaching, doesn’t it?  We can’t fix what we can’t see.  Leaders must be willing to push themselves in their activities to become better.  They must have a coach. They can’t push others to get better, when they are not doing it themselves.

Who is coaching you to improve your performance?  Who is helping you see the entire field?  The big question is this, ARE you coachable?  Or do you already know it all? That is the problem I see with most people.  They already know it all! How can you help me?  When you think you know it all, you have failed.

I am currently coaching clients in the areas of goal setting, sales training, leadership, and career progression. If you would like access to some of the free resources I have please email me directly at

Brian Willett


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