More on Balanced Practice

I’ve recently written about achieving balance in practice.

To recap, we should always be observing our physical and mental thresholds to prevent injury and burnout.  Also, to avoid hitting a wall in our development, we should consider a more holistic approach to practicing.

I’ve since read Dr. K. Anders Ericsson’s 1993 publication The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.  Below are some brief excerpts relevant to balanced practice.

I’m especially interested in the studies by Bryan, Harter and Keller on Morse Code; I’d like to know specifically how reorganization of the skill can be realized so one can avoid plateaus in learning.

I’ll also be checking out the Auer and Chambliss studies on the importance of attentiveness and focus while practicing.  Obviously, if you’re not focused, you’re not really practicing!  Additionally, you may only have the energy or ability to focus for short durations.  I’m interested in this dynamic.  Is 30 minutes of intensely focused practice better than 2 hours of semi-focused practice?  How much better?

Subsequently, the next question, which probably won’t be answered in these studies, is: How can one keep focus for as long as possible while practicing?

Please read the following excerpts from Ericsson:

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“A number of training studies in real life have compared the efficiency of practice duration ranging from 1-8 hr per day.  These studies show essentially no benefit from durations exceeding 4 hr per day and reduced benefits from practice exceeding 2 hr (Welford. 1968; Woodworth & Scholsberg, 1954).  Many studies of the acquisition of typing skills and other perceptual-motor skills indicate that the effective duration of deliberate practice may be closer to 1 hr per day.”

“Under the assumption that practice draws on limited physical and mental resources, one would expect that the level of practice an individual can sustain for long periods of time is limited by the individual’s ability to recover and thereby maintain a steady state from day to day…if an individual cannot recover each day from a given level of practice, sustaining that level will lead to exhaustion and mental fatigue.”

“Disregard of the effort constraint on deliberate practice leads to injury and even failure.  In the short term, optimal deliberate practice maintains equilibrium between effort and recovery.  In the long term, it negotiates the effort constraint by slow, regular increases in amounts of practice that allow for adaptation to increased demands.

“In their classic studies of Morse Code operators, Bryan and Harter (1897, 1899) identified plateaus in skill acquisition, when for long periods subjects seemed unable to attain further improvements.  However, with extended efforts, subjects could restructure their skill to overcome plateaus.  Keller (1958) later showed that these plateaus in Morse Code reception were not an inevitable characteristic of skill acquisition, but could be avoided by different and better training methods.  Nonetheless, Bryan and Hater had clearly shown that with mere repetition, improvement of performance was often arrested at less than maximal levels, and further improvement required effortful reorganization of the skill.”

“A necessary precondition for practice, according to Auer (1921), is that the individual be fully attentive to his playing so that he or she will notice areas of potential improvement and avoid errors.  Auer (1921) believes that practice without such concentration is even detrimental to improvement of performance.  On the basis of an extended study of Olympic swimmers, Chambliss (1988, 1989) argued that the secret of attaining excellence is to always maintain close attention to every detail of performance ‘each one done correctly, time and again, until excellence in every detail becomes a firmly ingrained habit.’”

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