Blog 13.3

Our next blog is on Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool’s book, Peak:  Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.  This book discusses the importance of deliberate practice in gaining skill in any area.  Our third blog of the series will discuss mental representations.

Our last blog emphasized the importance of feedback in helping us determine exactly what skills would improve our performance.  The insight we gain from feedback enhances our understanding of the context and skill we are trying to master.  Consider how a ladder builds upon itself.  You need the lower base to build up.  Our learning happens in a similar manner.  We all have preexisting patterns of information that we sort in terms of relationships, facts, images, etc.  These patterns (or schemas) help us be efficient when we encounter new information by allowing us to swiftly identify how the information relates to previously learned relationships.  The authors highlight how we are always building and organizing these patterns without even realizing it.  Every new piece of information becomes a building block to and for other pieces of information.  Ericsson and Pool describe these mental representations as “mental structures that correspond to an object, idea, collection of information, or anything else, concrete or abstract, that the brain is thinking about.”  

The authors emphasize that high performers need to hone in on the actual mental processes they are using when they are learning a new skill.  Most high performers understand their training techniques are likely becoming more sophisticated and effective, but are not able to describe and replicate these techniques.  Instead, they might rely on trial and error, possibly leading them to practicing ineffective methods.  With feedback and deliberate practice, experts’ mental representations are distinctly better in terms of quality and quantity.  The authors use the example of a baseball hitter quickly recognizing the pitch and where it will likely be when it reaches them.  Less developed players aren’t able to read the pitcher’s delivery and rely on seeing the ball.  People might believe high performing hitters have great eyesight and reflexes, but they are more than likely just responding to their highly developed mental representations, which helps them “perceive which players’ movements and interactions mattered the most so they can make better decisions.”  The process of building these mental representations make athletes more efficient as they sort through all the possible scenarios, determine what information is relevant and irrelevant, and make a quality decision.     

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