We all recognize the importance of practice in acquiring skills. But, as I noted briefly in yesterday’s post, Clawson and Newburg in Powered by Feel add a dimension to practice that is sometimes overlooked. Practice that is merely working on a skill does not prepare people to perform in the real world. “They taught their minds and bodies to perform a skill over and over again. Yet they did not prepare themselves to do those same skills under pressure, when it mattered. The variation and energy isn’t there. They may even become bored.” (pp. 65-66)
I doubt that any trader could claim a record that matches the UConn women’s basketball team—75 consecutive double-digit wins. Trading the markets and playing basketball are, after all, very different games. Nonetheless, the trader can still learn from such a staggeringly successful basketball team. For one thing, although the UConn women’s basketball team practiced patterns until they executed them flawlessly and conditioned their bodies to go longer and harder than their opponents did, their preparation for performance wasn’t just more of the same. Among other things, their coach confronted them with stressful scenarios—two minutes to go and down ten, how do you win? He invented pressure situations even as the competition wilted. If it’s too easy to beat the competition, then beat the game. At every turn he would up the ante, making his players reach deeper into themselves to find something that would improve their performance against teams both weak and strong, conventional and unconventional.
The practice sessions of this team are the antithesis of the route to mediocrity that Clawson and Newburg describe. First of all, if a person doesn’t love what he’s doing he is destined for mediocrity; all the practice in the world won’t prepare him to be a top performer. He’ll just be going through the motions. As Clawson puts it, “Working without feel tends to create working without doing work and a loss of energy.” (p. 207) Second, and somewhat akin to the first, to avoid ending up with a mediocre performance record practice must include a very specific “feel good” component. The positive feeling that a person acquires in practice serves as a grounding for him when he becomes a performer; it’s a feeling the performer can revisit when he is under pressure. As Newburg writes, “World-class performers prepare to live their dream, to feel the way they wanted to feel when it mattered most by feeling it when it seemed to matter least.” (p. 65)