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Coaching Tips

Predicting Success in the NFL (And Elsewhere)

Consider the challenge that NFL teams face on draft day. They get only a few shots to select just the right player. They must wait their turn as other clubs snap up talent. And then, having made their picks, teams must shell out lots of cash to sign them.

Under these circumstances, no one wants to make a mistake. It’s too expensive, both in terms of money and in terms of lost quality. And yet the NFL landscape is littered with busts, led by Charles Rogers, whom the Detroit Lions made the second overall pick of the 2003 draft.

How do you predict which players have the best chance of succeeding? This article by Jonah Lehrer in ESPN The Magazine explores the question. And his answer is either disappointing or inspiring, depending on your point of view:

Success in the NFL is closely tied to the willingness to put in long hours. But, as the saying goes, it’s not the hours you put in, it’s what you put into the hours. Great skill and great achievement come from deliberate practice, a demanding activity in which you are always out of your comfort zone.

Lehrer defines deliberate practice as “a disciplined attempt to improve specific skills.”

“I think the willingness to put in the hours is the most important thing for succeeding in the NFL,” says Gil Brandt, former Cowboys vice president of player personnel and current draft analyst for NFL.com. “When you look at the best QBs — guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees — what you see is that they work harder than anyone else. Their work ethic is what makes them great.”

The evidence keeps rolling in. Whether you’re trying to make the right draft picks, or shoot foul shots, or become a better coach, there is no substitute for deliberate practice. It requires motivation and a strong mental game. But it works.

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Mike Tully speaks to sports, business and educational groups. He also works with coaches, athletes and teams to make their practice time more productive and efficient. He and Gary Pritchard are co-authors of “Ten Things Great Coaches Know.” To see Coach Tully and Coach Pritchard discuss “Seven Ways to Prepare for Adversity,” click here.


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