The Importance of Deliberate Practice

Topic(s): selection
Publication: Social Psychological and Personality Science (2011)
Article: Deliberate Practice Spells Success: Why Grittier Competitors Triumph at the National Spelling Bee
Authors: A.L. Duckworth, T.A. Kirby, E. Tsukayama, H. Berstein, K.A. Ericsson
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Deliberate practice is a form of practice that is characterized by being effortful and not enjoyable. Though doing something that is not fun and hard is not initially appealing, deliberate practice is a powerful tool that has enabled individuals to become experts in a wide variety of fields in the domains of both athletics and arts. Thanks to the work of Duckworth et al., performance in a spelling bee can be added to that list.


Specifically, it was shown that the amount of time the contestants spent memorizing words alone, a form of deliberate practice, predicted performance at the U.S. National Spelling Bee. Moreover, the contestants’ level of grit, or their perseverance and focus on long-term goals, affected the amount of deliberate practice they engaged in, and in turn, their performance. It was shown that the grittier contestants engaged in more deliberate practice, and as a result, performed better.


Though few of us aspire to be competitive spellers, the results of this study are tremendously valuable, and can be applied to a multitude of settings. In the workplace, for example, employees must learn new skills and perform under pressure, just as contestants must learn a huge amount of words and compete in a high-stakes tournament. In knowing that grit, through the mechanism of deliberate practice, predicts individuals’ ability to learn and perform, employers deciding which employee to hire could decide to evaluate this characteristic, and use this piece of information in making the hiring decision.


Duckworth, A. L., Kirby, T. A., Tsukayama, E., Berstein, H., & Ericsson, K. A. (2011). Deliberate Practice Spells Success. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2(2), 174-181.

Image credit: istockphoto/ChayTee