“Practice makes perfect.” It’s a phrase we have all heard, and many of us have said. It’s used to calm someone who is frustrated with an activity, letting them know it takes practice to perfect their art and they should keep working at it. It’s a perfect response to a child who complains they don’t want to go to practice or is tired of practice casting in the backyard and just wants to wing it on the boat tomorrow. Unfortunately, living by the mantra “practice makes perfect” could be more detrimental than helpful.
The thinking behind the phrase is straightforward and simple: to be good at something you need to practice. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You practice! While the thought behind “practice makes perfect” is well intentioned, and for many people sufficient, there needs to be a modifier to the phrase. Adding one word makes a world of difference and that word is “Perfect.” Perfect practice makes perfect. The addition of one word changes the entire meaning behind “practice makes perfect.”
This simple modifier is what separates the great from the good. A skier can take 100 runs through a course, put in a good effort with the proper technique, and they will benefit from it. They will gain muscle memory, they will work on the fastest lines, and they will have a better understanding of how hard they can push themselves around the corners. However, if there is one part of their technique that is incorrect they are ingraining bad habits. On the other hand, a great skier will take 100 runs and treat each run like it’s for a gold medal. The great skier will make sure their technique is flawless, every move and turn will be well thought out and expertly executed, and when they don’t get it right, they’ll do it again. They will continue to do it again and again and again until they cannot get it wrong.
For most of us it’s not practical to spend endless hours in a gym or on a practice field, but there is still a valuable lesson to be learned. If you are going to do something, you might as well do it right. When you are out on the lake fishing and your leader breaks do you just tie another lure or do you put on a completely new leader? The decision to cut corners and fish with a leader that’s too short could be the difference between landing the biggest fish of the day or walking away with nothing but your bait.
In other words, you get back what you put in. This holds true for work, relationships and the sports we love. If we practice sloppy, we will play sloppy. It doesn’t matter if we are training for the Olympics or just teaching our kids how to fly fish. At the end of the day we do these activities because we enjoy them and we all know we tend to enjoy activities more when we are actually good at them.