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Perspect Psychol Sci. 2016 May;11(3):333-50. doi: 10.1177/1745691616635591.

The Relationship Between Deliberate Practice and Performance in Sports: A Meta-Analysis.

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Department of Psychological Sciences, Case Western Reserve University
Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland.
Department of Psychology, Michigan State University.


Why are some people more skilled in complex domains than other people? According to one prominent view, individual differences in performance largely reflect individual differences in accumulated amount of deliberate practice. Here, we investigated the relationship between deliberate practice and performance in sports. Overall, deliberate practice accounted for 18% of the variance in sports performance. However, the contribution differed depending on skill level. Most important, deliberate practice accounted for only 1% of the variance in performance among elite-level performers. This finding is inconsistent with the claim that deliberate practice accounts for performance differences even among elite performers. Another major finding was that athletes who reached a high level of skill did not begin their sport earlier in childhood than lower skill athletes. This finding challenges the notion that higher skill performers tend to start in a sport at a younger age than lower skill performers. We conclude that to understand the underpinnings of expertise, researchers must investigate contributions of a broad range of factors, taking into account findings from diverse subdisciplines of psychology (e.g., cognitive psychology, personality psychology) and interdisciplinary areas of research (e.g., sports science).


deliberate practice; expertise; skill acquisition; sports; talent identification

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