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  • Writer's pictureDillan Taylor

Deliberate Practice vs Free-Play

One of the keys to improving in anything is finding the balance between deliberate practice and free-play.

Deliberate practices are the essential, fundamental elements of a given craft or skill. It’s the grunt work. It’s unsexy, and usually incredibly boring. E.g. practicing scales on piano, studying Spanish with flash cards, hitting mitts in boxing, swimming laps…

Free-play is much more loose; the practitioner has the freedom to experiment and have fun. It’s also typically the time in which it’s easier for someone to enter a flow-state (i.e. where one’s body seems to simply be doing the work without them thinking about it). E.g. jamming and improvising on piano, having a conversation in Spanish, sparring, swimming in a lake with your buddies…

The dichotomy between deliberate practice and free-play is not always black and white. How does one deliberately practice reading or conversation? Some practices will require creativity.

Nevertheless, the two need and feed off one another. The sharper one’s fundamentals, the sharper their instincts are during play. Deliberate practice makes free-play stronger and smoother, and vise-versa.

In improving a skill, it is vital to find an effective balance between these two types of training.

Perhaps: 30 minutes of deliberate practice, then 30 minutes of free-play; or

30 minutes of deliberate practice today, then 30 minutes of free-play tomorrow

The key is to not interweave the two. One often practices deliberately for 5 minutes, gets bored, then begins playing freely. This might be more enjoyable, but it hinders growth. One should remain locked in on the task at hand, find a balance which suits them, and rock on.


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