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Deliberate Practice

Theory of Improvement

Not long ago I heard a coach complain that his players do not take the basics they learn early in practice and put them into the games they play later in practice. They do not take them into real games, either.

This is a common lament, and it comes from failure to understand a principle of improvement: It is a conscious process.

Just because you do something over and over in practice does not mean it will become part of your game. You must keep your mind on it. This is where focus comes in. And coaches and players are both guilty of getting off track.

Here’s how to make it more likely that a player will absorb practice tips into his game. First, the coach stresses a technique — let’s say getting low on a ground ball. Then he hits 100 ground balls. And the coach gives feedback ONLY on getting low.

It’s amazing how easy it is to get off track. For instance, after hitting two ground balls, the coach will notice another mistake that the player is making. He’ll switch the feedback, and pretty soon both the player and the coach forget what they were working on the first place.

No wonder that players don’t improve!

By the way, if you are going to hit 100 balls, and give feedback on every one, there’s no law that says you must see a flaw every time.

When the athlete starts getting the hang of it, you can say, “Great job of staying low.”

Make the feedback as specific as possible. Something like “Great job” is not as good as “Great job of staying low.”

So the next time you find your athletes not absorbing fundamentals, make sure you are doing a good enough job of focusing on them.


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