On the Empirical Substantiation of the Definition of “Deliberate Practice” (Ericsson et al., 1993) and “Deliberate Play” (Côté et al., 2007) in Youth Athletes
Arne Güllich, Laura Faß, Christina Gies, & Veronika Wald
The concepts of deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993) and deliberate play (i.e., informal youth-led sport play with peers, but without a coach, such as backyard soccer, basketball in the driveway; Côté, Baker, & Abernethy, 2007) have been influential on research into the acquisition of athletic expertise. Deliberate practice was defined to be undertaken for the extrinsic motive to achieve an improved performance, with the further criteria that it be physically and mentally highly effortful and not inherently enjoyable. Deliberate play was defined to be highly enjoyable and to be undertaken for the intrinsic motive to maximize enjoyment. However, the authors ascribed these attributes a priori to athletes’ involvement in the activities but did not empirically measure the ascribed attributes. In this study, we examined whether these a priori pre-supposed attributes are underpinned by empirical correspondence in youth athletes. A total of 208 athletes (13.6 years; SD = 2.6) from several sports reported their motives and inherent enjoyment of coach-led practice and youth-led sport play in a questionnaire. The empirical findings did not provide support for some of the premises of the definitions of deliberate practice and deliberate play. Inherent enjoyment was high in both activities and did not differ. Youth athletes’ motives to engage in both sport activities comprised a broad multi-dimensional spectrum including health, general fitness, aesthetic experiences, social interaction, and recreation from daily hassle, not just performance or inherent enjoyment. Within the performance motive for coach-led practice, the intrinsic component was very pronounced while the extrinsic component was not. Furthermore, more successful youth athletes showed less empirical correspondence with premises of the deliberate practice concept than less successful athletes. The findings suggest that the definitions of deliberate practice and deliberate play should be empirically substantiated, rather than defining them by untested a priori premises.