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The application of the concepts of deliberate practice to coaching sport can have a positive and significant impact on performance, skill acquisition and learning. There is a significant amount of literature and research in this area – The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, Peak by Anders Ericsson, and The Two-Second Advantage by Vivek Ranadivé and Kevin Maney are really useful sources of information. The question for me, however, is ‘What does it look like in practice?’ How can I transfer all this knowledge into applied practice? And so I decided to design planning guidelines as a reference point to influence and shape coaching sessions. These came down to nine critical areas that emerged as key themes for improving performance through deliberate practice.
The following infographic aims to recognise those themes and detail the context in which they are applied.
The session is designed so that it encourages commitment from the players to work at an intensity where they are challenged, stretched and pushed to the fringes and beyond their comfort zone. If there was a setback or failure, they would be eager to correct their mistakes. But in demanding this, I always seek to ensure that the session is engaging and appealing. How can we expect these outcomes from our players if these are absent in the sessions that are planned? Don’t go through the motions because that can be infectious for all!
If we work on footwork, balance and agility then provide the context – ‘situational probability’ (the likelihood of these skills being required in the game situation is high). Therefore, as a performer, when they reflect on the training they have undertaken, they feel more comfortable in the performance environment because it replicated the match conditions as closely as possible. It always had purpose and relevance. There were ‘decision-rich’ environments created where, through small-sided games, players were actively involved in problem-solving activities.
Essential though was not just the provision of games, but the desire to be accurate in the movement skills we coached: ‘Is that good enough yet? Are we now ready to move on?’ What are the details in those movements that could be improved on, and importantly, which are recognised by the group?
Seek the answers from them with some guidance from the coach: ‘How can we improve the jump? What are the key aspects we are looking for? Which one aspect can you go away and practise to get better, and what will you use to regulate those performances?’ To encourage players to ‘own’ the learning is a very powerful coaching method with this approach to reflective practice.
This is the narrative for the session plan, and one I have found that acknowledges and applies those deliberate practice themes. I am currently working on the delivery of fundamental movement skills through play and storytelling activities using this template.
So what about performance measures? Well, the pirates are much better at fencing, and can use both hands, move swiftly across the deck in stormy seas and, when they do reach Treasure Island, easily evade the octopus when they get to shore. But this story is for another day!
I would love to know your thoughts. Please feel free to leave a comment below.
If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.
I am interested in trying to tie this into non-linear pedagogy. Are you suggesting that the "learning objectives" are really teased out of the first box, with the coach suggesting/nudging the athletes in a direction? Once roughly outlined, then deliberate practice can truly take place? And, at the end of this "session", you don't tick off whether you've achieved the objectives, just that you are on the right path?
Dan - I have constructed the key elements that I believe are essential considerations. The info graphic is not a step by step guide in other words starting with commitment and finishing with eagerness., it is a recipe with all the ingredients shown. The critical aspect here is that you consider the learner, the coaching and learning environment, the stages of development, feedback and an understanding that to get better and improve coaches need to ensure that the learning is a shared process. Do you know how to improve and why? What skills do you need to develop / practice, understand and evaluate their own performance. Success is measured on an individual basis as are the aspirations - do I want to have the basic skills so I can play with friends or do I want to be the best I can be? I deliver this in a module at the University and the integration of this in practical sessions has been very insightful for all involved. With the fundamentals I focus on accuracy - don't just do the movements but get them right because the errors carried forwards will limit the individual later.
Thanks Richard, though you have led to more questions than answers! I like the ingredients aspect, which helps me understand the mix of the session. I also get the shared process. I suppose what I'm trying to understand is this:> The questions you pose in your comment: Do you know how to improve and why?What skills do you need to develop / practice, understand and evaluate their own performance?> How do you measure accuracy and then, how do you measure whether those skills are "learned"?And thanks for sharing this research and development. It seems we are still learning more about learning.
Hi both. Thanks for sharing the original post it is an interesting read. Dan - this may help answer your first question, I think a lot of what is 'deliberate' about practice stem from performer or individual constraints such as motivation to do well or master a task. The practice design and the manipulation of task constraints then foster an intrinsic motivation within a NLP as the performer is encouraged to explore and self organise therefore they are becoming hooked on learning not simply reproducing solutions or completing set tasks. The deliberate part of a NLP is in the doing and having a go in changing environments not necessarily the repetition or mastery of tasks that a deliberate practice approach implies. I hope that adds something to the discussion I look forward reading more. Matt
Hi Richard,I am interested in how you think this can be applied to a sport such as Gymnastics, where there is no game against opponents, only completing a series of moves against a set criteria to achieve a perfect score. How would you use this in a pursuit of "perfection"?Rob
Dear Rob Thanks for your message and apologies for the delay in replying I was away delivering a session on deliberate practice in Manchester yesterday and there are real challenges to ensure it is embedded effectively in training. With DP the concepts are to ensure the quality of the practice is kept high - so periods of intense activity followed by recovery. Coaches and athletes work towards accuracy in technique and outcome with time to reflect on performance and encourage in your case the gymnast to be more and more aware of their own development needs. "I know that areas to improve on are....... and I can do this by.......". It promotes a partnership in the learning between coach and athlete. Then yesterday we focussed on how to ensure that the skill acquisition is challenging but at an appropriate level - 'stretch them - just beyond what they can do - even a small change but one that is achievable with practice". I refer to the phrase "treading water" - are people staying in the same place or is there always an opportunity included in the session to be challenged? Diligence is the attention to detail that you encourage your gymnasts to adhere to - good habits! Warm-ups, cool downs, hydration, correct kit, timing, doing the extra things well that support the overall performance goals. I hope this helps. Richard
Hi Richard,Thanks for getting back to me. You've explained it in a way I can understand, which is sometimes difficult when taking something relating to teams and changing to individuals, it is definitely some food for thought.Rob
Hi Richard,Thanks for the very interesting article, My question is if your model of deliberate practice would be useful for children aged 6-12.As you know there is a big debate regarding the use of deliberate practice vs deliberate play with this age group. What is your opinion?Giuseppe
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