It is important that all of our Player Development sessions feature the concept of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is a concept that has been widely discussed and debated over the years. Although I will not spend time this article debating whether or not 10000 hours enough time to become an expert in any skill, I will spend time talking about how we can apply the four general concepts of deliberate practice into Player Development sessions as a means of helping our players improve faster.
Deliberate practice has a specific focus. It is vital that we chose a skill or focus area that is essential to the athlete being successful in the game. The Pareto Principle most definitely applies here. What is the 20% area of the athletes game that provides 80% of their results? Amateur athletes approach practice without a specific focus. Amatuer athletes go out to “shoot around”, whereas elite athletes go to the gym with a plan to work on a specific area of their game. The name deliberate practice implies that the athlete has clearly selected a certain skill to work on, and they have a plan as to how they are going to make that happen.
The second concept of the deliberate practice is that feedback must be present and incorporated into the practice session. There are two main types of feedback:
- Intrinsic Feedback
- Extrinsic Feedback.
Intrinsic feedback is when the task itself provides feedback to the athlete. An example of intrinsic feedback would be an athlete missing a shot short – missing a shot short lets the athlete know that they did not shoot the ball long enough or hard enough. Intrinsic feedback gives the athlete information to adjust for the next repetition.
An example of extrinsic feedback would be the coach (or other source) providing the athlete with different cues to help them enhance their skill execution. Specifically, this would look like the coach telling the athlete to, “get their elbow higher on the release”, so the athlete is able to get more loft on the ball, increasing the chance of making a shot. If there is no feedback involved, learning will not be accelerated. Knowing when to allow intrinsic feedback to provide cues for the athlete, and when to use extrinsic feedback is a challenge that the coach should embrace.
The third area of deliberate practice is that the athlete refuses to “coast”. Deliberate practice requires that the athlete stretches himself to the edge of his ability so he can get better and better as he practices. Practicing what is easy or comfortable is a surefire solution to never improve.
Good coaches are needed because they help the athlete realize what is possible. Good coaches help athletes go beyond themselves and practice “on the edges of their ability”.
The final concept of Deliberate Practice is the idea of laser focus. Good athletes implement intense focus on each and every repetition, causing their workout to be both mentally and physically taxing. It is better to take 4 completely focused and engaged reps than 16 half-speed, disinterested reps.
Because human beings can only sustain intense attention for a period of time, it is vital that we structure our Player Development sessions in short intense bursts of activity, followed by a little break. All too often coaches glorify long practice hours and the number of shots taken by a player. While getting a lot of reps is essential to becoming a better player, it is vital that we pay attention to what kind of reps we are getting, and what the focus level is on the reps that we are taking. How the athlete performs the skill is vitally important.
In review, we see that there are four ideas of the Deliberate Practice that must be present in order for an athlete to develop their game. The four ideas are:
- Working on a specific skill
- Being engaged in the feedback loop
- Practicing at the edges of one’s ability
- Having intense focus on each rep
In closing, here are some ways that we can apply before ideas of deliberate practice in our Player Development sessions going forward.
- Resolve to work on two areas of the game or less in every player development session. Emphasize those thoroughly, seeking mastery in each.
- Ignite multiple sources of feedback in the Player Development session. You can do this through allowing the task to provide intrinsic feedback, through providing teaching yourself as the coach, and also through the use of video feedback for the athlete to watch their performance.
- Using time and score as a means to give the athlete an objective to reach that is slightly beyond what they’re able to do. For example, if you expect an athlete to hit a certain number of shots in a drill, I would suggest decreasing the amount they have to complete the drill so they are forced to stretch themselves. By getting the athlete out of their comfort zone and making them operate at a level at which they are not used to, you’re helping them engage and deliberate practice.
- Shorten the amount of time that drills run for. Laser focus is essential for improvement. That being said, it is vital that we do not allow the athlete to practice in a way that decreases their focus. Try to shorten your drills by a minute or two, while really emphasizing that the athlete is mentally and physically engaged and drill.