Here is something I pulled from the Sports Guy’s page (2006) where he interviews Malcolm Gladwell. It is mostly Gladwell that I hit on though:
Gladwell: This is actually a question I’m obsessed with: Why don’t people work hard when it’s in their best interest to do so? Why does Eddy Curry come to camp every year overweight?
The (short) answer is that it’s really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn’t work hard. It’s a form of self-protection. I swear that’s why Mickelson has that almost absurdly calm demeanor. If he loses, he can always say: Well, I could have practiced more, and maybe next year I will and I’ll win then. When Tiger loses, what does he tell himself? He worked as hard as he possibly could. He prepared like no one else in the game and he still lost. That has to be devastating, and dealing with that kind of conclusion takes a very special and rare kind of resilience. Most of the psychological research on this is focused on why some kids don’t study for tests — which is a much more serious version of the same problem. If you get drunk the night before an exam instead of studying and you fail, then the problem is that you got drunk. If you do study and you fail, the problem is that you’re stupid — and stupid, for a student, is a death sentence. The point is that it is far more psychologically dangerous and difficult to prepare for a task than not to prepare. People think that Tiger is tougher than Mickelson because he works harder. Wrong: Tiger is tougher than Mickelson and because of that he works harder.
Ericsson’s primary finding is that rather than mere experience or even raw talent, it is dedicated, slogging, generally solitary exertion — repeatedly practicing the most difficult physical tasks for an athlete, repeatedly performing new and highly intricate computations for a mathematician — that leads to first-rate performance. And it should never get easier; if it does, you are coasting, not improving. Ericsson calls this exertion “deliberate practice,” by which he means the kind of practice we hate, the kind that leads to failure and hair-pulling and fist-pounding. You like the Tuesday New York Times crossword? You have to tackle the Saturday one to be really good.
Take figure-skating. For the 2003 book Expert Performance in Sports, researchers Janice Deakin and Stephen Cobley observed 24 figure skaters as they practiced. Deakin and Cobley asked the skaters to complete diaries about their practice habits. The researchers found that élite skaters spent 68% of their sessions practicing jumps — one of the riskiest and most demanding parts of figure-skating routines. Skaters in a second tier, who were just as experienced in terms of years, spent only 48% of their time on jumps, and they rested more often. As Deakin and her colleagues write in the Cambridge Handbook, “All skaters spent considerably more time practicing jumps that already existed in their repertoire and less time on jumps they were attempting to learn.” In other words, we like to practice what we know, stretching out in the warm bath of familiarity rather than stretching our skills. Those who overcome that tendency are the real high performers.
In summary, experience is overrated if it isn’t coupled with ever increasingly difficult training and increasingly difficult training is mentally demanding. To separate themselves, people like Tiger Woods in practice test their abilities and often fail. Being willing to fail makes them great.