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Deliberate Practice

Best Daily Habit for Coaches

Today I’m speaking to the New Mexico Track and Cross Country Coaches Association in Albuquerque. This talk and opportunity would never have become possible without the inspiration and teaching of my friend and mentor, Dr. Rob Gilbert.

Rob is a sports psychologist whose passion is helping bring out the potential in others. Somehow Rob helped me become a convention speaker, and he can help you with your dreams, too. He offers a daily motivational phone message that he calls Success Hotline. It’s free and he never sells products. Today happens to be the 21st birthday of Success Hotline. You can call it right now at (973) 743-4690. It could become a habit — one of the best you could ever form.

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Of the thousands of decisions coaches must make, few match the difficulty of knowing exactly when to leave one drill and move on.

The simple answer is to stay with the drill until you have accomplished what you must. But it’s not really so simple after all.

What happens when the athletes are not getting it, and instead are getting frustrated?

This question comes to mind because of a passage in “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. It goes like this:

“According to a 1995 study, a sample of Japanese eighth graders spent 44 percent of their class time inventing, thinking, and actively struggling with underlying concepts. The study’s sample of American students, on the other hand, spent less than 1 percent of their time in that state. ‘The Japanese want their kids to struggle,’ said Jim Stigler, the UCLA professor who oversaw the study and who cowrote ‘The Teaching Gap’ with James Hiebert. ‘Sometimes the (Japanese) teacher will purposely give the wrong answer so the kids can grapple with the theory. American teachers, though, worked like waiters. Whenever there was a struggle, they wanted to move past it, make sure the class kept gliding along. But you don’t learn by gliding.’”

Coyle’s words don’t help us see the precise line between when to keep pressing or when to move on. But they do underline a guiding principle, namely, that it’s good to struggle. In deliberate practice, it’s necessary to work just outside the area of competence.

As North Carolina soccer coach Anson Dorrance has said, if your practice goes too smoothly, it means that the athletes are doing skills they have already mastered.

The more time your athletes spend in their comfort zone, the less skill they will acquire, and the less equipped they will be for the stress of competition.

So are you a teacher who let will the athletes struggle, or are you a waiter just moving things along?


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