Have you ever played football (or any game) where you don't keep score? I have. And it is boring and pointless. When I was a kid, football practice was either a game where score wasn't important. Or it was attack against defence (this is when all one team does is attack and all the other team does is defend), which was again done without keeping score.
All through that time, I used to hate practice. Simply because it had no excitement. No matter what happened during the session, we would all go back happy thinking we had put in an hour of work which had made us better. Only it hadn't. It had simply made us, made me, complacent.
Later on, I realised that you play like you practice. When you practice without keeping score, you are going through the motions. There is no sense of urgency. You are doing things just how the text book suggests. You are not under any pressure, so you make all the right moves. When we used to play attack against defence in practice, as an attacker, I never faced the consequences of losing the ball or making a poor pass. If the defence won the ball, they kicked it upfield and all I had to do was run up to it, fetch the ball and start over again.
Only that's not what happens in the real game. In the real game, if you lose the ball, the opposition is going to run with it and score at the other end. So I have to chase back immediately after losing the ball and atone for my mistake by winning it back. And since I always practised not doing that in my practice sessions, I never did that in the real game either. It just wasn't natural.
Practice is all about committing things to muscle memory. It is not about acquiring new skills, although that is another essential part for achieving success. Practice is just about doing something over and over and putting ourselves in different situations again and again so that we are able to act without thinking when we are faced with such a situation in reality. When the stakes are a hundred times higher.
This is what Malcolm Gladwell means when he talks about ten thousand hours of deliberate practice. And it only happens when you keep score.
Only when you keep score are you working towards something with a constraint. I have tried lifting weights at the gym and lifting the same weights, the same number of reps over the same number of sets in two different ways. One, with as much rest as I feel like in between sets, checking my phone for messages before getting back. The other, with a strict thirty second gap between sets. And the difference was palpable. When there is a constraint, things get harder. And we need to push ourselves harder to make it through. And when there isn't a constraint, we relax.
If you're doing a course on Coursera, do it within the specified time and take all the quizzes as suggested. They are adding constraints. Just going through the videos at your leisure is not deliberate practice.
If you're practising a sport, keep score.
If you're writing something, publish it to an audience.
If you're running, have a target pace.
Practice deliberately to see results.
Always keep score.