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Deliberate Practice

Find What’s Slowing You Down


“We cannot afford idleness, waste or inefficiency.” — Eamon de Valera 


Years ago when sitting with baseball scouts at spring training games, I got a kick out of one of their habits.

They held a stopwatch in one hand and, whether they were jotting down notes or chatting with the person next to them, they would automatically start the watch when they heard the ball hit the bat.

Then they would look up, watch the play, and stop the watch when the runner reached first base. I always thought this was lazy work, but now I see the significance: There is an average time it takes a player to run from home plate to first.

If the fielders can retrieve the ball and get it to first base in less time than that, the runner is out. If the runner can get to first base in less than that amount, he is safe.

So on every single play, the batter and the fielders are both trying to eliminate anything that slows them down.

It’s the same everywhere in sports. Coaches are always pleading with their players to cut down on mistakes. Volleyball guru Dr. Carl McGown uses the term “eliminating inefficiencies.”

All this came to mind over the weekend at the Luge World Championships, when former American luger Gordie Sheer said one of the most profound things I’ve heard in decades of studying sports: “It’s a gravity sport. There’s nothing you can do to go faster. The only thing you can do is find the things that are slowing you down.”

That’s the whole deal right there. Sports psychologist Dr. Rob Gilbert puts it in this formula:

Pr = Po – I (Performance equals potential minus interference)

You can use this formula starting right now. If you’re not achieving everything you wish, then something is slowing you down. It might be inefficient practice routines, poor work habits, sloppy technique, or anxiety. If you cut down or eliminate the interference, the level of your performance goes up.

Lugers spend their careers looking for inefficiencies that slow them down even by thousandths of seconds. A skid here. A brush against the wall there. Too high a curve. Too low a line.

Dr. McGown, an unsung force behind the men’s Olympic gold medal in Beijing, has spent his career asking questions like:

Are we doing the right things in practice?

Are we teaching our skills in the most efficient way?

What can science teach us about how we should proceed?

Most people react in a very specific way to a loss: They either become too frustrated, too disappointed or too angry to analyze what went wrong. It takes poise and courage to step back and say, “What held me back?”

Once you ask that question, you can begin to eliminate inefficiencies.

And win more.


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