Deliberate Practice in Sports

Don’t take away my basketball!

We afford our children so much opportunity in time and the money we spend on their sports passions. Just think about what YOU could do with the time that teenagers have on their hands? The time between school and homework, time in the evenings and weekends? If you had that kind of time to focus on one thing, I’d bet you would get pretty good at it too.

As adults, with busy careers and responsibilities, we don’t have that kind of time, and often we end up living vicariously through our kids as we cart them from practice to games and tournaments. But, what happens when they disappoint? I’m not talking about losing a game at their chosen sport. I’m talking about the other aspects of their lives that have nothing to do with their athletic activities. Too often the thing they love the most becomes the tool we use to discipline with, when they fall short on grades or come home past curfew or other serious infractions. I know my parents seemed to use this sort of strategy when I was growing up. It felt to me at times, like the only reason they ever gave me anything I wanted, was so they had something to take away when I misbehaved.

Today I am writing to suggest not interrupting the progress and the value of “Deliberate Practice” and to discuss the harm well-intending parents can do to a promising athletic career if they choose the wrong disciplinary vehicle to bring their teen-agers in line.

Recently a conversation I had with Jose Morales has been on my mind. And, when I came across the following podcast, these two ideas came together to form this Blog Post. Here in Phoenix, many of you probably know Coach – Jose Morales as the personable coach and business man of the Arizona Club Basketball organization; AZ All-Stars and his Sport Directory; Junior Hoops. He was telling me about his experience with athletes who showed real promise getting “grounded” from practice by their parents when their grades dropped or they misbehaved in some other fashion. By withholding their child from basketball practice as the form of punishment, the athlete fell behind in drills, skill development and learning the plays with their team-mates. Sometimes never to recover the skills to the level they once had or that their peers achieved while they were “out for the season”. They fell behind and never caught up – eventually dropping out of the sport as a result of frustration. Ironically, it could have been the sport that would have earned the scholarship, that would have helped pay for the college education the parents so desire.

We want the best for our kids. Everyone knows that sports has so many mental and physical benefits to the development of growing children and young adults. That is why we implore you to consider some other restriction to be imposed for the transgressions of youth. Restricting screen-time or cell phone use for example.

Rather than interrupt the flow your athlete is developing. Consider the concept of “Deliberate Practice” which is the performing of drills, whether that be for basketball, playing the piano or any other discipline that requires repeated exercises with the purpose of improving skill. And, here is the important piece: it needs to be done under the direction and supervision of a teacher or coach with a specific goal in mind. It is one thing to practice with the general notion of “getting better”. Showing up to practice, and doing what is required. It is an entirely different endeavor when you quantify that goal and measure the results. That is what ProFile Sports is in the business of providing. Through our scorekeeping apps and graphical interface, we provide measureable proof to every athlete using our system of the progress on no less than 17 different metrics.

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I highly recommend listening to this podcast episode where the host Stephen Dubner explores;
What if the thing we call “talent” is grotesquely overrated? And, what if deliberate practice is the secret to excellence? This episode is based on the claims of the research psychologist Anders Ericsson, who has been studying the science of expertise for decades, and was publicly called into question for his theory “Magic 10,000 hours” to mastery by “Outliers” author, Malcolm Gladwell’s. Both experts are well worth looking into. While they disagree on specifics, they do agree on one thing. That is to get really great at anything you have to consistently push beyond your comfort zone. It is a physics based principle that high achievers are never satisfied with reaching their personal best. They keep breaking down the achievements as well as the failures. Examine their performance and make corrections where necessary.

There is an element of faith as well. More than just confidence in one’s own ability. You have to believe the once impossible is possible for you with just a bit more concentrated effort. Dubner cites the example of Bob Fisher, (not the chess player Bobby Fisher) the 58 year old record holder of 14 World records in free throws; blindfolded, under-hand, with two balls, both hands, standing on one leg and 2371 foul shots made in under an hour. And guess what? He never played basketball beyond his senior year in high school. He is no freak of nature. Not exceptionally talented at the sport of basketball. He simply dedicated the neuro-scientific principle of Deliberate Practice, and shaped the way his brain worked through focus and visualization. He literally stretched his mental and physical abilities by continually reaching for a currently unachievable goal and dedicated his time to achieving incrementally better results.

Tune into http://freakonomics.com/podcast/peak/ to select the podcast that inspired this article.

This example proves once and for all that it is not only God-given talent that separates the champions from the rest of us. So tell your kids to keep practicing. But practice with a specific purpose. Measure your results regularly and focus on what your coach is teaching you. And, stay out of trouble so your parents don’t have to ground you in the first place.
With purpose, anything is possible.

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