Towards a science of the acquisition of expert performance in sports: Clarifying the differences between deliberate practice and other types of practice

J Sports Sci. 2020 Jan;38(2):159-176. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2019.1688618. Epub 2019 Nov 12.


Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch- Römer published their research on "The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance" over 25 years ago. Since then, hundreds of new articles have been published with findings regarding the effects of practice on performance in sports. The original paper searched for conditions underpinning optimal acquisition of reproducibly superior (expert) performance in domains, where methods for producing such performance had been refined over centuries. At an elite music academy, superior music students were found to have engaged for longer periods in solitary practice guided by their music teachers - an explication of the conditions of this type of practice led to a definition of deliberate practice. When other researchers in sports started searching for optimal practice, they could not find any practice activities meeting all the criteria for "deliberate practice", yet referred to somewhat similar activities using that same term. This paper shows that the effects of these different types of practice activities on attained performance differ from those of deliberate practice and should be given different distinct names. The paper concludes with recommendations for how future research on purposeful and deliberate practice can inform, not just athletes and their coaches, but all adults about how their achievements can be improved with individualized forms of effective practice.

Keywords: Deliberate practice; expert sport performance; expertise; reproducibly superior performance; skill acquisition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Athletic Performance / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Mentoring
  • Motor Skills
  • Music / psychology
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / psychology*
  • Practice, Psychological*