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  • Writer's pictureGena Martine Santoni

Practice Makes Perfect

Repetition and practice are the only real ways to gain mastery, bit by bit.

As Ferris Bueller once said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” These days it seems life is moving faster than ever, and our sense of time passing is approaching light-speed. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But I know you know what I mean.

Most people I talk to are experiencing some version of time-scarcity. Our to-do lists are never ending and everyone is always rushing to and fro, hither and thither, to do this or that, with barely a moment to spare for brief conversation as we sail past one another, on to the next event or errand.

This time-scarcity mind-set makes time ever more precious, and so our tendency is to try to cram as much into every moment that we possibly can. We want both the most bang for our buck and for our precious minutes. We finish one thing from our agenda, only to ask, “What now? What’s next?” It seems we live each day as if we exist merely to cross another item off our list. We want everything to be better, faster, easier, more convenient, so we can go on to the next thing and check the next box. Moving along seems to be what matters rather than any depth of experience, or even enjoyment.

While I understand this compulsion myself, I also know that some things simply take the time they take, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. Sure, sometimes we can benefit from multitasking. We can talk on the phone while we fold the laundry. We can listen to an audio book or record voice memos, while we are driving. But when it comes to quality time, adding in more quantity of content is not always better. Sometimes enough is plenty.

This especially applies to learning. Too much too quickly does not add value, but instead handicaps comprehension and retention. Learning, whatever the subject, takes time. It takes repetition. It takes practice. Repetition and practice are the only real ways to gain mastery, bit by bit.

At Cotillion we are sometimes asked the same types of time-scarcity questions: “What’s new this year? What’s next? It seems the same again. Aren’t you going to do anything different?” And of course the answer is, yes. More is added every season. More skills and more depth. But only after the children are ready and have developed enough proficiency first.

How many hours does your child spend at soccer (or baseball, or piano, or ballet) practice? When your child goes to practice, what’s new? Chances are they do the same drills, the same patterns and practice the same things time after time. Why? Obviously, it is so the things that they are practicing become ingrained and automatic. So they will remember without having to think about it. So that things become second nature. So that they will know how to work with others in that environment. So they will understand what their particular responsibilities are to those around them. So that it will become easy for them and they will become more successful at it. And because with every practice they gain experience, and muscle memory, and actual memory, that all lead to greater proficiency, and with time, expertise.

Well, those very same reasons apply to Cotillion, too. It often seems repetitious, because it is! Because that is what it takes to build mastery. It takes time. It’s like learning a language. Do you want your children to have a surface knowledge of manners that will get them by, or do you want them to have fluency with manners and the confidence that goes with it? They won’t be kids forever, after all. Before you know it they will be interviewing for summer jobs, and college, going out on dates and having lunch with the boss.

Parents who spend their time at Cotillion standing in the back chatting and watching from a distance are often under the impression that the children just dance the same dances and play the same games and that nothing really seems new at all. But those who take the time to sit and listen hear that the concepts introduced grow in depth and detail each season in accordance with the age and proficiency of the children. For what is also “new and different” every year of Cotillion are the children themselves. They hear and understand the very same things in very different ways as their life experience and depth of understanding grows.

As an example, let’s take First Impressions. In 3rd Grade we discuss how it is natural to feel nervous and shy when we are uncomfortable, but that it is not polite to act shy. Then all the children smile and practice acting confidently and even the shy children are empowered. When they are older we talk about how people remember us for the way we make them feel, and that through respectful behavior we can be leaders by our example at any age and affect those around us in a positive way. In Junior High we expand this to include how our choice of attire and our manner of self-presentation can either project impressive self-confidence, or diminish our image, and by extension, our reputation among others. Everything we present to the children is meant to empower them with a knowledge of what to expect out in the big wide world, and how they can move confidently and successfully within it.

After all, life moves pretty fast . . . let’s be sure they are prepared for it.

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