Friday, January 30, 2009

Deliberate practice and seeing more with less

Deliberate practice: In a previous post, we looked at role of deliberate practice (a specific type of practice) in the making of an expert. Say, I am convinced of this method and I start deliberate practice. How do I know I am getting better? In Talent is overrated, author Geoff Colvin tells us to ask this question: Can I see more with less?

Reaction time vs perception: Imagine yourself to be on the other side of tennis court opposite Andy Roddick ready to return his serve. At 120 to 150 mph chances are high the ball will zoom past you before you have time to turn your head towards the ball. At that speed, the ball will travel from the Andy’s racket to your service line in just over a quarter of a second. Yet top players routinely return those serves. Conclusion we tend to draw is that top players have incredible reaction times, enabling them to watch that ball come at them and get themselves in proper position in a quarter of a second. Research shows that the conclusion is incorrect. Here are the findings:
  1. Reaction time does improve with practice. However, it belongs to the land of mediocristan and follows 80-20 rule. That is, nearly all the improvement comes in the first little bit of training. After that lots more practice yields only a little additional improvement. This means reaction times poses inherent limitation as to how much you can improve. However, researchers found something interesting as to how top players overcome this limitation.
  2. By watching eye movement of top players using sophisticated equipment researchers have found that top players weren’t looking at opponent's ball. They were looking at opponent’s hips, shoulders and arms that foretold where they would hit the ball. This gave them additional time to adjust themselves.
Experts perceive more with less: Researchers have uncovered the same phenomenon in many kind of sports and in a wide range of other activities. Top performers figure out what’s going to happen sooner than average performers by seeing more with less. For example, jugglers don’t need to see the whole path of the balls. When their vision is restricted they can make necessary adjustments as long as they can see just the apex of each ball’s trajectory.

Ask yourself, “What can I see more with less?”

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