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Purposeful Practice - Dancing With the Stars Edition

Ever wonder why Dancing with the Stars is being dominated by former athletes? Most people jump to the conclusion that it is a result of their physical prowess. Certainly this does not hurt them, but I know many highly accomplished athletes who are horrible dancers. For every Donald Driver, Shawn Johnson, Apolo Anton Ohno and Emmitt Smith there is a Monica Seles, Clyde (note nickname "The Glide," which at least suggests dancing skills) Drexler, Natalie Coughlin and Ron Artest (Aka Metta World Peace) who bow out early.

Before I get too far into this let me make this disclaimer, I've never watched Dancing with the Stars. That said it is safe to say, I am about as far from being an authority on both dancing and this show as possible. However, I do know something about performance and developing skills, and that will be how I approach this topic.

I suspect a big reason that athletes seem to dominate this competition is related to how they practice and evolve through the competition. To be a successful athlete at the highest level requires that you not only spend a lot of time practicing, but that the practice is purposeful. Purposeful practice has several characteristics, including but not limited to the following: it is centered on progress rather than results, it is deliberate, and it is highly focused on going just beyond your current limits.

When the average person practices, they want to spend 90% of their time practicing what they already do well. The highly accomplished athlete knows that he must spend the majority of his or her time working on things that they are not currently good at, but which will make them much better over time. The goal of purposeful practice is always the same: progress. We learn almost everything through making mistakes. That's how we learned to walk and talk and that's how we progress.

Additionally, most athletes at the highest level are striving to get better even once they reach the higher levels of their sport. Not to take anything away from the other competitors invited to compete on Dancing with the Stars, but most of them get comfortable with their craft once they achieve success.

Once a comedian has a successful routine, they stick with it for years or longer and are more likely to hire writers than continually work at getting better. Likewise, most actors and actresses tend to play the same kind of parts throughout their careers and when studying usually spend 90% of their practice on things they are good at. They are not actively trying to get better everyday with purposeful practice like most high level athletes.

Most athletes who reach the highest level of their sport also possess the mental edge necessary to master nearly any skill they choose to pursue. So if you combine their mental edge with purposeful practice, it is quite predictable that the athletes will improve much more throughout the process of the show than their competitors. You don't have to be athletic to sing and I suspect if they come out with a show called (please no) 'Singing with the Stars,' that it is entirely likely that athletes would dominate it as well for the same reasons I stated above.

Follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc

Sam Obitz is a leader in the use and development of mental skills that help you achieve peak performance. Visit The Mind Side Blog at

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