Monday, November 10, 2008

Practice Preparation is Deliberate

The folks at informed me of a couple articles recently written about deliberate practice, a concept that has long been studied in relation to expertise and talent development. The beauty of the work, originally from the mind of Dr. K. Anders Ericcson, is that becoming really, really good in a field is a grueling task for which many people are not willing to sacrifice their time and energy... or they are simply afraid to attempt. A summary from Time Magazine suggests the discipline one must have in order to nurture true talent:

Ericsson's primary finding is that rather than mere experience or even raw talent, it is dedicated, slogging, generally solitary exertion — repeatedly practicing the most difficult physical tasks for an athlete, repeatedly performing new and highly intricate computations for a mathematician — that leads to first-rate performance. And it should never get easier; if it does, you are coasting, not improving. Ericsson calls this exertion "deliberate practice," by which he means the kind of practice we hate, the kind that leads to failure and hair-pulling and fist-pounding. You like the Tuesday New York Times crossword? You have to tackle the Saturday one to be really good.
The challenge of deliberate practice from a coach's or teacher's perspective is the actual design and implementation, especially when the so-called leader has such a wide range of players or students in his or her classroom. Some students have no experience with the topics being taught, while others have years of mature skills. In order to take on an approach to teaching and learning that entails personalized goal setting -- individualization that actually promotes the overall team vision -- teachers and coaches need help. They need great assistants, daily practice plans, and even guidance from within the classroom via the students. In our basketball practices, which are deliberate by definition -- with organized time slots for down to the minute drills and challenging work second to second -- we provide leadership and team building opportunities for the players on a regular basis.

The enjoyment comes at the end of the day, when we have worked so diligently to achieve daily goals. The process may not always seem fun for the players, but on another level, they know the physical and mental work has to be rigorous -- deliberate -- to get one step closer to the program's vision. Expertise at the highest degree, as in the elite, is something that has been nurtured through devoted training sessions, coaching, self-reflection, and hours upon hours of physical and mental effort. Yes, there may be natural aspects in brain or body type that allow the greatest to enhance potential, but those individuals still must have the appetite to eat away their days through focused and intense practice and preparation. In a sense, they immerse themselves in the activity of choice to become the absolute best.

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