Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363

How expertise is attained

  • The path to expert performance from youthful interest: Bloom’s three-phase model of talent development

  • The criteria for expertise change dramatically as performance levels increase

    • In the first phase, the student’s compared with local amateurs. In the second phase, they’re compared with other novice practitioners. In the third phase, they’re compared with other professional aspirants. In the fourth, they’re compared with other international performers.
    • These criteria don’t just change in scale: they’re concerned with different categories.
    • Child musicians are mostly judged by technical abilities, but professional eminence requires emotional expression and unique interpretations
    • Child mathematicians are mostly judged by efficiency and memory, but professional eminence comes from deep insight and creativity
    • Many students have trouble making this transition
  • This type of practice requires considerable resources: Bloom reports that parents of aspiring expert-level competitors spend most of their free time shuttling them to related activities; they may move to be closer to better training facilities; they spend huge amounts of money on top-tier coaches.

    • This requires a strong belief that the child is “special’ or can be top-tier.
  • Deliberate practice is high-effort

    • The authors review various studies reporting “essentially no benefit from durations exceeding 4 hr per day and reduced benefits from practice exceeding 2 hr … the effective duration of deliberate practice may be closer to 1 hr per day.” (p. 370)
    • Practice requires close concentration in every action so that students build automaticity accurately, rather than encoding subtle mistakes. Focus is also important to notice areas which might be improved and to change one’s practice to pursue them.
    • Improvement in physical ability (strength, endurance) is self-limiting because it requires operating close to the edge of performance: Skill development requires challenging homeostasis
    • If each day’s practice fully consumes students’ mental and physical reserves, it’s important that students are able to recover completely on a regular basis. Otherwise, subsequent practice sessions will either be curtailed by the student’s limited available efforts, or else they’ll push past exhaustion, which risks injury and burn-out.
    • We can think of effort as a constraint which sets the equilibrium point: students must accumulate thousands of hours of practice, but they can only practice sustainably for a few hours per day; this means that practice must stretch over years of consistent sessions.
    • It seems that students can increase their tolerance for practice over time; long-term training programs begin with 10-20 minute sessions with young children and gradually increase over long periods.
    • Relatedly, many famous novelists “write only for 4 hr in the morning, leaving the rest of the day for rest and recuperation” (p. 371).
  • ==left off p. 371==


Bloom, B. S. (1985). Generalizations about talent development. In B. S. Bloom (Ed.), Developing talent in young people. Ballantine Books.

Last updated 2024-04-15.