10,000 Hours of Practice are Required for Mastery

Sometimes our learnings come when we least expect it. I am sure you’ve had similar experiences – where one minute you are minding your own business, enjoying whatever you are doing, and the next minute you are captured in a significant learning moment. That happened to me this weekend.

After church on Sunday, my son unexpectedly asked if we could go play tennis. My first reaction was “Why?” Tennis has not been his activity of choice in the past. So he explained that he really wanted to work on his tennis game and prepare himself to be a state qualifier for his high school tennis team in his upcoming senior year.

Needless to say, I was excited for him and anxious to help him achieve a goal he had set for himself. So, we called to reserve a court and readied ourselves for a two-hour tennis workout.

We started with some stretching, loosened up with some easy baseline volleys, practiced at the net and took a few practice serves. We were ready for a good father-son match. About that time, a young girl and her tennis coach arrived to use the court beside us. The tennis coach had with him a large basket of balls and the girl simply brought her racquet.

We continued to play our match but I could not help but find myself watching and thinking about the student and her coach. While we made some good serves and returned some good shots, much of our time was spent preparing for the next serve, the next game, then next set. Meanwhile the coach was feeding balls to his student in rapid fire succession – first from the forehand position, then the backhand, from the baseline, then at the net. And the learning struck me.

While my son was practicing hitting the ball maybe 2-3 times per minute, the girl next to us was practicing hitting the ball about 40-50 times per minute! The difference in practice frequency and repetition was amazing! Here I thought I was really helping my son with his game, when I was really keeping him from getting better faster at the sport.

And I could not help but think about how that relates to a business owner and their business. Those who get really good at running their business will find ways to get more “swings of the racquet” and focus on repetition and frequency rather than simply trying a few swings and considering it good practice.

You see, my son and I had a good time, but we could hardly consider our tennis outing as “practice”. Practice is when you focus on doing one thing really well, do it over and over again, and improving your outcomes from rapid frequency and immediate feedback. The tennis coach was giving feedback after every shot, with every setup, for every adjustment in her swing.

Are you practicing at being a better business owner? Are your sales people practicing at meeting prospective clients? Are your front desk folks practicing at answering the phones and delighting your customers? Or are they just getting a few swings of the racquet throughout the day without immediate feedback and adjustment?

In the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he describes the power of getting 10,000 hours of practice time in your area of focus. If you want to be world-class, if you want to be better than your competition, then you have to find ways to get more practice time than your competitors.

What are you doing to make sure your team members are getting real practice at their critical skills? Now is the time to stop playing around and get serious. Just like my son. If he wants to be successful in making it to the state meet on next year’s tennis team, he will need to become serious about practice. The closer you get to 10,000 hours, the more likely you are to be the winner!

No better time to start…than right now!

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