Deliberate Practice: The TOPGUN Approach

Deliberate practice, as defined by author and speaker James Clear, “refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.”

Deliberate and purposeful practice is not a new form of training. In fact, it is used around the world and has even impacted history. During the middle of the Vietnam War in 1968, U.S. pilots were losing aerial battles with Vietnam at a 1:1 ratio. This means that these aerial battles, or “dogfights”, were resulting in the loss of one U.S. plane for every Vietnam plane lost. In response to these terrible statistics, the Navy created the TOPGUN school, which utilizes elements of deliberate practice in order to create an advantage for our pilots.

The Navy participated in purposeful practice by selecting pilots to attend the TOPGUN school and act out combat situations with the instructors. They utilized cameras to record their practice fights and reviewed them with the students to provide coaching. This helped the students understand flaws and grow from their mistakes. Over time, deliberate practice taught the students self-criticism, questioning, and quick critical thinking skills that soon became second nature and helped them in real combat situations.

The results from the TOPGUN school’s participation in deliberate practice were extremely successful. Between 1970 and 1973, U.S. pilots were only losing 1 plane per Vietnam’s 12.5 planes. This was an improvement of 1,150%!

Most recently, the principles behind deliberate practice have been explored in depth by Ander Ericsson and Robert Pool in the book Peak where they distill decades of research into a powerful learning strategy.

Rehearsal is committed to developing these same principals of deliberate practice and using them to improve outcomes in the business world. We have an incredible panel of experts we will be working with in 2018 to help develop these ideas into actionable, quantifiable steps for sales enablement, customer service, and leadership development.