My Career, Sans Ladder

September 10, 2006

Practicing Practice

Ever since moving into an apartment right next to a basketball hoop I've been a little obsessed with improving my jumpshot. It's gotten to the point where I almost enjoy practicing more than playing in actual games (maybe cause my bum ankle doesn't come into play as much just shooting around)...I've really tried to embrace the simple pleasures of shooting - the flick of the wrist, the sound of the net, the feeling of the ball on your finger tips. So far results have been positive, setting up a nice feedback loop - the more I practice, the better I get. The better I get, the more I want to stay that way, which leads back to more practice and wanting to practice more effectively/efficiently.

In reading this post on Kottke on creating talent there are multiple interesting points raised on the purpose and expectations around practice:

Expert performers -- whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming -- are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect.

Deliberate practice entails more than simply repeating a task...Rather, it involves setting specific goals, obtaining immediate feedback and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.

The immediate feedback is something that basketball lends itself to - you know instantly if your technique is working or not. However, it hasn't been as easy to focus on technique as I find it hard to watch/feel my form improving/degrading. I also haven't done a very good job of baselining my performance - early on my shot was so bad it was easy to tell if more jumpers were dropping, but lately I seem to focus more on the misses than the makes so it's getting harder to tell if my overall percentage is improving.

Not sure where else I wanted to take this, except for that this is the first time I've ever really noticed enjoying practice. I've enjoyed learning new things in the past, but this is different. And I like it...and I want to keep it up.

Other miscellany thoughts pulled from the comments on the above thread:

I believe you can get good at anything by working at it. But not world-class good. Sometimes you have to just get lucky at the genetic level.

Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

Practice doesn't make perfect: Practice makes permanent. You can learn bad habits as well as good ones.

This is not to say that all people have equal potential. Michael Jordan, even if he hadn't spent countless hours in the gym, would still have been a better basketball player than most of us. But without those hours in the gym, he would never have become the player he was.

So as I see it, the less effort it costs you to achieve a particular goal, the more talent you have.


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