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What Does Figure Skating Have to do with Obama?

This Time article, which was touted by the magazine’s editor on"Morning Joe" yesterday in a discussion of whether experience matters in the context of the presidential candidates (specifically re: Obama), references the book Expert Performance in Sports. That book contains a study of the practice habits of 24 figure skaters, including those from elite and lower tiers. The study found that elite figure skaters spent 68 percent of sessions practicing jumps, while the second-tier skaters spent only 48 percent of the time practicing more jumps and they rested more.

"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.

The article cites the example to further the point that just having experience at something doesn't necessarily make you an expert - you have to tackle the tough stuff and not just repeat what's familiar. But it’s interesting to see how this works in the case of figure skating. Are the elite skaters only spending more time on jumping because they are better at jumping, or are they better because they are the skaters who put more time in from the get-go? It might be interesting to read more about the study and see what the researchers have to say.