It’s been said at nauseam:”practice makes perfect,” or “Don’t practice until you get right, practice until you can’t get it wrong” or perhaps “perfect practice makes perfect” or any number of other mantras to describe the development of mastery. I offer another paradigm to this line of thinking, and I apologize to whomever I stole this quote from because I cannot find it to give you credit but it goes something like this: “Practice doesn’t make perfect nor is it meant to, practice simply increases your repertoire of ways to recover when you f*** up.”
I have witnessed time and again people who master simple skills in a more or less linear progression. A, always goes to B, which always goes to C. They nail it every time. When the time presents itself that A goes directly to C or perhaps there is no A. The whole process fails.
The concept I am getting at regarding cognitive theory is that of situated cognition and/or the theory of multiple representations. We should strive to always achieve mastery of skills in a situated manner meaning they are performed in context of real-world situations. Heavy emphasis on the “S” in situations. We should master the individual skills in the context of multiple situations and emphasize the idea that even if things don’t go our way, we must continue to completion because that is our expected level of performance outside the drill grounds. We shouldn’t stop and repeat because things didn’t go our way.
I am certainly not abandoning the ideas of ‘crawl-walk-run’ regarding skill development. The emphasis of what I am getting at is that skills outside the entry-level should be practiced in context more often than not. In terms of evaluation, we should abandon the JPRs as a checklist and evaluate the mission. Was it accomplished in a safe manner? Ask ourselves, “how can I improve next time.” When we shift our way of thinking from the rote memorization of JPRs to the mission before us, we are advancing our level of thinking. We focus on the mission rather than the next step in front of us which enables us to recover if things aren’t perfect. We get in the mindset of improvement, rather than a mindset that fears the repercussions of a missed step in a JPR.
How does this translate to the perfect drill? Every drill should be an opportunity for growth. In my mind, the objectives for “the perfect drill” should be loose. “Here is the problem, fix it.” The goals of the drill should be simple. “Be better.”
When people aren’t being critiqued by an outsider, they perform better. It is important that we foster an environment where it is ok to say “hey, I sucked today.” An environment that allows for a good discussion on what went well and what didn’t go well. An environment where we can all admit mistakes and learn from each other’s mistakes. That is where real growth takes place. In my mind that creates “the perfect drill.”