What would you think if you heard these three sentences: “Greatness isn’t born. It’s grown. Here’s how.” You’d think: I’ve got to find out how, right? And that’s what I did. Those sentences form the tagline for a great book, The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. This is the first in a three part series that will look at the key elements that Coyle says are necessary for excellence: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. As coaches, we’ve always believed and preached the power of practice…now we’ve got the experts on our side. Let’s first look at “deep practice” and how we can institute it with our teams.
I’m sure we all have those athletes who are pretty good, but we look at them and see who they could be if they just pushed themselves. We challenge them to try new things, but they are perfectionists and hate making mistakes, so they don’t reach their potential. They play it safe, they stay comfortable…they’re good, not great. Remember that the whole concept of the book is that we are in control of our talent and our greatness…that we can work at it if we work in the correct manner: “struggling in certain targeted ways—operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes—makes you smarter.” How can we translate this to our athletes?
3 Rules of Deep Practice
- Chunk it up: I don’t think this one is much different than most of us are doing already. Break a skill into its most basic parts, learn those, then slowly speed it up until your athlete is at game speed. The one difference is that Coyle says before practicing, we should get our athletes to watch someone who’s amazing at that particular skill so that they can absorb what greatness looks like…I suppose you could even use the times when the athlete themselves performed the skill at a high level.
- Repeat it: As Coyle says, “there is no substitute for attentive repetition.” But he’s not saying that your athletes have to hit five hundred jump shots everyday in order to be great. It’s about being focused and challenging oneself during that practice time…not mindlessly throwing up balls or chatting with friends while “practicing”.
- Learn to feel it: This is exciting to me! If our athletes perform this targeted, focused, deep practice long enough, they will eventually get to a “balance point where they can sense the errors when they come.” As coaches, we’ve all seen this happen. We tell an athlete that they’re dropping their elbow when they hit…and we tell them, and we tell them. We probably even show them on video. But when they can feel it themselves as soon as it happens, it’s all over! Now they’re on track to beat that mistake because in order to avoid the mistake, they have to feel the mistake.
The takeaway? We should have shorter, more focused practices with our athletes. Challenge them to think about what they’re doing and to feel when they’re not performing a skill correctly. By teaching them to embrace mistakes, they’re on their way to overcoming those mistakes and on the road to greatness.