Practice. Practice. Practice. And Practice Some More.

In spite of failing miserably trying to explain tennis scoring to my seven year old (15 love? Deuce?), I nevertheless enjoy watching the annual ATP Pro Tennis Challenger in our hometown of Aptos, CA.

This tournament is particularly enjoyable because of the accessibility fans have to the players. You can really get to know these guys. They are the up-and-coming pros that you've never heard of unless you are a die hard tennis fan. Many are in their young twenties and ranked between 100 and 300+ in the world. Some of these players will hit the big time - Andy Murray played in this tournament in 2005 as a wildcard. Today he is ranked in the top 10 and has $12 million in career prize money.

But this blog post isn't about sports - its about what it takes to make the big time. I'm not talking big time as in excessively rich and famous, I'm talking about being at the top of your game and amongst the best in your competitive field whether you are a marketing assistant, CEO or VP of PR.

Sure you collect a steady paycheck and maybe get a promotion and a bump in salary every so often - but are you really at the top of your game? And how hard do you work at improving your game?

What stood out the most at the tennis tournament was the amount of time these guys practiced.

All the time.

During one grueling match the winning player missed a few overhead shots - but he won! Even so, directly after the match without even going to the locker room the player took an unoccupied court with a coach and hit overhead shot after overhead shot - for two hours! (I want him on my team). This wasn't unique to this player - they all did stuff like this. I was blown away by just how obsessed these guys were with practicing every little detail of their game.

And it got me thinking about our own careers. When was the last time you blew a performance review or made a poor managerial decision? What did you do about it? Did you stay at work a few extra hours (or wake up early) to study the problem and find ways to correct it? As a marketer, how much time do you put into "continuing education" to really master your trade? And how often do you practice using the latest tools of your trade? A lot of people are guilty of getting into a comfort zone and then flying on autopilot for the rest of their careers. Even CEOs can fall into this trap with the inappropriate use of delegation.

Remember Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule of becoming an expert? As Michael D. Haberman wrote in his blog HR Observations a few days ago (referencing Miriam Salpeter's blog post about why Twitter users are more likely to get job interviews):
"Practice makes perfect? Maybe not, but practice does make better for sure".
My guess is most of us don't practice enough and we all have a lot of reasons I mean excuses why. And that is exactly what they are - excuses.

Like watching tennis.

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