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Deliberate Practice

Gretzky’s Great Practices

Today is Wayne Gretzky’s 49th birthday. Some people believe he is the greatest hockey player who ever lived.

My favorite story about Gretzky involves his dad, who came to watch him practice one day during the Stanley Cup playoff season. Afterward, the story goes, the elder Gretzky told his son that the practice session had gone to waste because Wayne had not put enough effort into it.

If the story isn’t true, it should be. As a parent who raised such an accomplished athlete, Walter Gretzky has an appreciation for practice. Not everyone does. Basketball player Alan Iverson dismissed the importance of practice in his famous news clip.

Even those who show up fail to get the most out of practice. There are so many ways to go wrong. You can go half-speed, you can cut corners, you can do the wrong things, you can practice things that you already know. Real practice is a demanding process.

Of course when Gretzky was a little boy he was having too much fun to think of hockey as work. He spent a massive amount of time on the ice in his formative years. He would, for instance, eat dinner in his ice skates and then go right out and play more hockey.

Most of the early influence came from his father, who created a backyard rink and devised drills that helped Wayne develop. All the work paid off. Gretzky became a superstar. And even then his father was there to remind him to practice properly.


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