Each week, the TMAA teaching staff engages students on a new topic in a pre-class discussion we call “Mat Chats”. We follow up on those chats with posts to the blog that help parents understand not only what we are discussing with their kids (it can be hard to hear in a martial arts school!), but also from what perspective we are leading those discussions and how you can bring the conversation into your home.
Last week, we discussed practice. Practice is essential for mastering any skill and is at the heart of our effort over achievement teaching philosophy at TMAA. It is important to distinguish between simply doing repetitions and doing “deliberate” practice.
Deliberate practice has two defining characteristics. The first is that it introduces a specific challenge to a skill or attribute that requires improvement in order to overcome. An example of this is how Tiger Woods, in an effort to improve hitting the ball out of sand traps, would famously push the ball downward into the sand with his shoe before practicing. By doing this, not only did he make his repetitions much more difficult, he made them more difficult than anything he would encounter in real play, thus making his real play execution easy in comparison.
Another example is how our kids prepare for doing pushups on their belt tests. When they take their first test (for Yellow Belt), they begin with 20 pushups. 10 pushups are added with each subsequent test so that when they test for Jr. Black Belt, they are expected to begin with 100 pushups. Obviously this can be daunting for kids and they often ask teachers at TMAA how to prepare for this requirement.
If a child is expected to do a set number of pushups, the obvious approach would be to build up his/her pushups with regular practice until they can do the required number.
It would be more effective–and they would perform better during testing–if instead they aimed for being able to do more than the required number. So, for instance, if they knew they had to do 30 pushups, they could work their way up to being able to do 40 or even 50 in a row. If they did that, they would have no problem knocking out 30 on a test.
Another challenge they could introduce is resistance. They could put extra weight on their body or have a partner press downwards on their back. If they can do 30 pushups with resistance, 30 pushups without resistance is easy.
So introducing a specific challenge to repetitions is the first defining characteristic for deliberate practice. The second is feedback. For Tiger Woods, the feedback was whether or not he successfully hit the ball out of the sand trap. For a child working on their pushups, the feedback is whether or not they are able to successfully do their required number of pushups.
Both of these examples present an empirical form of feedback from the task itself. By doing the practice, one can see for themselves if they were successful.
But feedback can also come from sources external to the task. For our students, this is feedback from an instructor. If a child is working on his/her Kwan Bup, for example, simple repetition may improve things like memorization, coordination and physical fitness. But an instructor is able to give the child course corrections that can move him/her towards better technique and execution.
So, deliberate practice is practice that specifically challenges a skill or attribute and includes feedback on the effectiveness of one’s effort. Deliberate practice is not just for martial arts—it can be applied in academics, athletic performance and even to improve emotional and social intelligence.
Deliberate practice is an essential part of learning and mastering any skill!