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Practice does not make perfect

Practice does not make perfect


One of the phrases I'm really starting to dislike is, “Practise makes perfect.” I don't like to hear it from anyone really, but I especially don't like to hear it from parents speaking to their children.

The truth is that practise does not make perfect, not ever. Sometimes, if the right practise is done in the right ways, it can take people to levels that might look like perfection to others, but it never brings real perfection. And only a very small portion of people are capable even of that much. Setting the unrealistic expectation of perfection is only setting kids up for failure.

The purpose of practise is not to make perfect but, as another and somewhat better phrase has it, to make progress.  We practise a skill in order to grow in it, to become better than we were, and we usually practise with a specific goal in mind, a goal that is most often much less than perfection.  We practise algebra to pass an exam, practise basketball to make the rep team, practise a video game to beat the next level, or whatever our goals happen to be. 

In looking to attain these goals, it isn't just necessary to practise, but to practise well.  We can study for weeks, but if we have the wrong text book, we're still going to fail the exam.  We can spend every spare minute working on our jump shot, but if our form is wrong, we still won't hit our shots.  Not just any practise will do.

As parents, this means that our job is not just to tell our kids glibly that practise will make them perfect. It's to teach them that good practise will help them make progress toward their goals. It involves showing them how to practise well, how to set challenging but realistic goals, how to be disciplined but not obsessive.  It's harder than just spouting the easy phrase, I know, but it will prepare them far better for life than some ambiguous and impossible notion of perfection.


Luke is a stay-at-home father of three boys, aged nine, seven, and three.  He has fathered, fostered, adopted, or provided a temporary home for kids anywhere between birth and university.  He has taught college courses, adoption seminars, camp groups, Sunday School classes, rugby teams, not to mention his own homeschooled kids.