Vince Lombardi

Practice vs. Duration Part 2

Continued from Part 1…

We have all heard the saying: Practice makes perfect. I have heard myself say it too. A few years ago, Simon, my brother-in-law, who is a life long soccer player and coach, quoted Vince Lombardi:

“Practice does not make perfect.

Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

~Vince Lombardi

Of course it does! So why do so many parents continue to force their children to practice for extended periods of time? Pushing our kids or yourself, through dragged out practice sessions will not automatically an expert make. Regardless of duration, the focus should be on practicing with precision and accuracy for any amount of time. Here is a great article about just this. Click this link to read it in its entirety. The article discusses the benefits of practice outside of sport, music or theatrical pursuits. How practice in everything we do has its place. This may seem obvious but it is often overlooked and definitely rarely practiced. 🙂

“Just remember not to stop as soon as you – or your charges – know how to do it right. The goal in these vital skill areas is not mere proficiency but excellence. The value of your practice, therefore, becomes more intense as you get better at the activity.”

“A critical goal of practice, then, should be ensuring that participants encode success – that they practice getting it right – whatever ‘it’ might be,” the authors stress.

They suggest you want your participants to complete the fastest possible right version of the activity.

Take the example of a youngster learning to hit a baseball in the backyard as her father feeds her slow pitches. It may seem to make more sense to take her to a batting cage where she faces hundreds of 60 mile-per-hour pitches, but that doesn’t allow her to apply the small corrections to her form that is needed to improve. Instead, eliminate complexity until you start to see mastery, and then start building the extras back in.

The law of the vital few – 80 per cent of results come from 20 per cent of our activity – should be applied to practice, they say.

~Harvey Schachter paraphrasing from Practice Perfect by, Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi.

Over the last few years, my husband and I have been experimenting with the duration of our kids’ practice time for their music lessons. It used to be our rule that they HAD to practice piano (or whatever their chosen instrument was to study) for a minimum of thirty minutes each day. But, because we were met with so much resistance (it often took thirty minutes of cajoling or arguing to even get the practice time started) that it became such an unpleasant situation overall. Who wants that kind of energy in his/her life? So we had to rethink the entire process and come up with a solution.

Our solution was to shorten the practice time.

Drum Kit

It seemed too simple and it felt wrong. And part of me was unconfident that any real long term learning would take place because it had been drilled into me that practice meant time and time meant success.

But because I have been experimenting with shorter duration activities for myself, (bed stretches, Tabata’s, 4 minute mornings, short bursts of house cleaning etc.), I speculated that the same theory could apply to the kids lessons and possibly everything!

Now, what you must remember is that we are talking about kids and kids are not very different from adults. Kids in fact, grow up and in most cases mature into adults. So, logically, the training for a mature adult begins at birth (this is often overlooked, too). Most kids, from my experience, do not like being told what to do, and interestingly I have also noticed the same characteristic among adults. Just because they have chosen said extra-curricular activity does not always indicate that they will want to do or practice said activity. Most often kids want to do what they want to do, which now-a-days has more to do with external stimulation via computer screens and less and less to do with self-generated imagination and creativity.

So this is what we did. We sat down with the kids and reviewed how our current approach wasn’t working out very well and that we had come up with an idea that we would like to try.  Our son likes to play video games (and is very skilled for his age), so in an effort to make everyone happy we have allotted him one hour of screen time per day, (dare I say) on school days; on weekends he gets more time; and in the summer months we experiment with allowing the kids to self-regulate (ha!). During the week, he can use that hour however he likes, i.e., all at once or he can break it up. This is what he usually chooses to do:

When our son wakes up in the morning, he goes through his checklist of personal obligations (on his own):

  • Bed stretches (his version)
  • Personal grooming: brush teeth, wash face etc. (remembers to flush toilet, keeps his sink area tidy etc.)
  • Makes his bed
  • Gets dressed
  • Good-morning greetings
  • 10 minutes drum-kit practice (Sept.– June/ Monday to Friday)
  • 15 minutes video games/ screen time
  • Breakfast
  • Packs up school bag
  • (Sometimes another 5 – 15 minutes video games/ screen time)
  • Clean/brush teeth from breakfast food
  • Leave for school

Five days a week he practices his drum-kit for 10 minutes and once per week has a thirty-minute private lesson; and never practices on the weekends! The results have been remarkable. OK, he is a talented kid, and he really gets the concept that if you’re going to bother doing something-then try to do it right the first time. So for those ten minutes he practices with accuracy and precision.

If you are going to bother spending any amount of time doing something, doesn’t it make sense to be as focused as possible?

Yet, in the same breath, he is still a kid and even though we think he has the makings of a great musician, we do not want to break his spirit by forcing him to practice, even though we know he might grow up to appreciate having studied an instrument outside of school. We have learned that what motivates one child does not work for another, so we practice working with their individual personalities – what a concept! 🙂

Puppy

We think of our kids a little bit like dogs. When we were learning to train our puppies, we were taught that the puppy, being a pack animal, had to know that the human was the alpha. But what was equally important to understand was that using force to discipline a puppy will only cause fear, and break the puppy’s spirit. We wanted brave, good-natured and confident dogs not submissive dogs. Our job as dog owners is to learn how to communicate with our pet. We think the same thing can happen to humans. We want our children to grow up into contributing members of society who are confident and can think for themselves. The training for such an adult begins at the beginning. We need to learn how to communicate with our children and teach them how to make decisions, not control them.

How many adults do you know who were forced to practice an instrument that they disliked as a child/teen, excelled at it, but discontinued playing it? I know of many who played at very high levels but lacked the passion; they played mechanically and tell sad stories of the instrument that they had really wanted to play but weren’t allowed. Just as it is true that kids do not always know what is good for them and parents need to make executive decisions, like if you start something then you should finish it (you can quit after you finish the term), and you should do your best, you don’t have to be THE best. We think that giving our kids the opportunity to be consistent with their shorter practice time sets the tone for their individual success. It also maps out the potential for a successful and varied adult life.

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