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Deliberate Practice

Wayne Gretzky and Practice

On Wayne Gretzky’s birthday — he turns 51 today — I always think of practice and of Gretzky’s father, Walter.

One day, when Wayne Gretzky was already the greatest hockey player in the world, he was practicing with his team, the Edmonton Oilers. Walter watched from the stands.

Afterwards, the two drove home together.

“You just wasted two hours of your life,” Walter Gretzky told his son. “If you’re going to practice, then do it right.”

No word on what happened the rest of the ride home. Maybe there was a sullen silence.

But Walter Gretzky’s comments are a reminder that even the world’s best need a wake-up call now and then. It can come from a coach, a family member, or an unexpected loss. That’s what happened to the Soviet hockey team when the U.S. Olympians defeated them in 1980.

Performers must be, in the words of golfer Bobby Jones, “everlastingly on the lookout against the self.”

Slumps often begin when things are going well. When results are good, performers never notice little flaws creeping into their game. The flaws only get discovered when results begin to fall.

Walter Gretzky knew his son well enough to know whether or not he was working hard. Trouble is, as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has said, you can fool yourself about how hard you are working.

Don’t fool yourself about your practice ethic.

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