Practice Makes Permanent

“Practice Makes Perfect” – Not necessarily.

To learn a new skill or movement we must repeat it over and over again so that it passes from Short Term Memory into Long Term Memory. Repeated practice forms a memory ‘engram’ which is like a brain program in computing terms.
Skills only retained in the STM will fade if not used and be unreliable, often they have to be accessed consciously, i.e. you have to think about it to do it.
Skills practiced until they become instinctive will have fixed themselves into LTM and are available to us on a subconscious level, i.e. you will react to external stimulus without having to think.

“Practice Makes Permanent”

It is at the stage where we try to commit the skill or movement into LTM that it is most important that we are precise with our practice.
Practicing a skill poorly will create a LTM of that poor skill, simply repeating a bad skill will never make it better, only harder to correct. Changing a skill that is set in our LTM is far harder than learning the skill correctly in the first place.

As a coach we must strive for perfection in our learners otherwise we are simply allowing them to absorb a sub-standard skill. In the long term they will not thank us for the extra work they have to do in the future to correct a poorly learnt skill. It is our job to find ways of making this perfect practice enjoyable and varied to keep our learners happy.

As learners ourselves it is important to know when to stop practicing. Tiredness or repetitiveness usually leads to a drop in concentration and a slipping of standards of practice. It is far better to stop and rest or move onto something else than continue to practice in a tired or agitated state. Stop, have fun, and when recovered, return to the skill.

So next time you hear “Practice Makes Perfect” you can politely correct the speaker by explaining the modern coaching take on this old phrase:

“Practice Makes Permanent – Only Perfect Practice Makes Permanent Perfection”

Varied Practice

Varied Practice:

Practicing a skill or technique with only one set of variables will produce a memory ‘engram’ (or brain ‘program’ if you like) that will be reliable when used in real life only when those same variables present themselves. The danger comes when we try to use a skill in a different scenario.
If the skill is only practiced in one scenario then the skill – however good – will only be reliable when that scenario happens.
Take a skill or technique and practice it with as many variables as possible using different environments and equipment. Only doing this creates a truely all round skill that is reliable in all environments.

Practice should be fun and even messing about with a skill is valuable learning –
Try rolling a kayak with someone hugging it!