Monday, November 5, 2012

10,000 Hours

Lions Den Blog - 10,000 Hours

There is one figure that lays of the words of many of the world’s finest sports coaches right now – 10,000.
It is a number that is believed to be one of the secrets of success.

Deliberate practice centers on repetition.

Champions become champions because they practice over and over again, no matter what the weather, no matter the conditions. Don’t expect to become good at anything without doing it a lot!

Some of the greatest soccer players of all time come from background of poverty. Pele grew up in Sao Paulo in Brazil, so poor he could not afford a soccer ball and was often forced to play with a sock tied to a piece of string or with a grapefruit. Maradona too was born into poverty and lived his first years in a shantytown on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires in Argentina. Both of these legends practiced and practiced, in dirt and mud, and they did so despite not having the money for flashy boots and state of the art soccer balls.

Just as the greatest swimmers swim hundreds of laps in the pool everyday and the greatest golfers hit thousands of golf balls every week – a soccer player must dedicate herself to play and practice. Several players, whom I know very closely, on school holidays would wake up early in the morning or in the afternoon, put on their training gear and walk a few hundred yards or drive a few miles to the park.
They would take hundreds of thousands of touches on the ball, took thousands of shots and spent endless hours passing and receiving. They would perfect their free kicks over time by taking one after the other against a friend acting as a Goalkeeper. At first I saved most of the shots and would make fun of the inaccuracy and pace of the strikes. But over time the taunting grew quieter as their power in her legs and in her kicks grew greater and greater. She would score more times than they could even get a touch on the ball.
Like most youngsters they had a love for soccer/football you could almost touch. They had a compulsion to play just as much as a will to win. It was only darkness that ceased the repetitive practice and forced them to go home.
                “A soccer player must play soccer, and work at her soccer. It must be fun,                                                                             but it must also be constructive”


These young ladies were constantly challenged by those she played every day. As small 10/11 year olds , they played with boys teams within their age groups, soccer obsessed brother and friends, who now still work within the game as coaches and trainers.

Because they were frequently players who were bigger, stronger to some degree and quicker they were always stretched as they competed. At a minimum they had to keep up with them, but her passion and approach was to find ways to beat them. This self-induced pressure forced her to focus her mind with a level of intensity that would be unusual for a teenage soccer player. It was this degree of focus that played a huge part in their rapid progress.

With a will to beat their brothers and older teammates, they were required to build their skill levels quickly. This meant they couldn’t allow themselves to slouch or take a break for a few moments. To her younger mind her opponents (brother, friends, Boys on their team), moved with speed & agility. She had no time to think about the past. Mistakes had to dissolve into the background so she could fix her focus on the present moment.

Her will to improve extended to post training analysis. In her bedroom after dinners, they reviewed and evaluated how well she did against them and asked themselves how she could do better the next day. She didn’t write anything down, but she kept a mental note of the components she had to work on.

Many hours of focused, goal directed training is your launch pad for improvement. Every minute of practice offers a learning experience. Striving to be a little better each day provides mental fuel on your and their journey to discovering how good you/they can be.

Feedback: It was told to them ‘Like it was!’

They were harassed by brother and friendly sarcasm from dad and mentors, taking shots when struck poor passes went seriously astray. But underneath the banter there were always instructional comments. “You shot when you should have passed there” or “you didn’t get your head up…she was calling for it”

They came away from the park everyday with their head buzzing with ideas. Not only did they take time to self-analyze, but they focused on the comments which were made during the day’s training. If they had shouted at them for shooting, they asked themselves why they shot and why the option to pass was better. If they moaned about missing the target, they thought a little about how they could get better at hitting the target. If they’d lost control of the ball, they imagined ways to improve their first touch. Each  of them reflected of the day of training, not as if it was just a game (although they had a lot of fun playing) but as if it was their obsession to improve – to get slightly closer to the performances of their older members.

Deliberate practice involves feedback – verbally from others, visually from watching yourself play, or kinesthetically (from your bodily feelings) from your own mind.

Most of the time the information comes from an outside source, from a coach or mentor. Make sure this feedback is as specific as possible and is solution focused. You need a coach to tell you about your game, the things you can control. Ask your mentor/coach to tell you about your game, the things you can control. Ask your coach what he/she felt you did well, then ask them to tell you what he/she feels needs to go better. More precise feedback, not just jargon like “You need to win more headers”, my response “you need to time your jumps better to win more headers” is more precise feedback and gives you something tangible to work on.

A few more examples:

 “You need to stop letting goals in. You are good enough not to” vs. “Commit to catching the balls on crosses and set pieces. Be confident in yourself and you’ll jump higher than the opposition strikers. You’re good enough to keep a clean sheet.”

Stop giving the ball away.” Vs.”Relax on your passes. Spot your target and commit confidently to your pass. Try to focus on getting a great strike on the ball and trust your body to kick it in the right direction.”

“You are always fouling. Stop fouling.” Vs. “Stand the player up. Remain on your feet and stay focused as she tries to go around you.”

Of course you cannot control the initial feedback from your coach but you can ask him to elaborate. You can ask him to tell you exactly how he wants you to improve the specific area of the game he gives you feed back on.

Remember, a great coach is only as good as his players are at learning. So take ownership of your feedback and communicate with your coach. Keep asking him what specifically you have to do to improve your game.

                “Working hard is important, working correctly is crucial”

How should you train

Train a little more

How often to you practice and train? You will be amazed how much you can improve just by turning up to the training fields 30 minutes earlier than normal to do a little more practice. Take a few shots, put some cones out and dribble around them.

Do the math! How many hours and days do you train? Let’s make this simple, we train 3x per week with 1 game on the weekend totaling 6-7 hours per week, so that’s four days X 52 weeks = 208 days and 338 hours they are playing. What are they doing the 157 days they are not training??? Expecting a miracle to get better?

See a little more

Improvement starts in the brain so it’s important you make practice and training mentally demanding as possible. It’s easiest to do this in your extra practice. Make shooting practice tougher by making the goal smaller, put two bibs down inside the posts and try to hit the bibs. If you are dribbling around cones then put those cones at ever decreasing distances apart so your ball control has to get better and better.
There are a whole set of drills you can do on your own or with a partner. The main message from the concept of deliberate practice is that soccer drills have to stretch your mind. They must be mentally demanding and physically challenging. They must make you think and they must pinpoint your focus.

                “In your next training session practice playing with too much confidence”

Know a little more

The great thing about deliberate practice is that it encompasses not only the times you are training but it also involves the notion of studying the game. If you start the process of becoming a student of the game then every minute you spend in learning mode counts toward your 10,000 hours of practice.

Do you understand the system of play your coach likes you to play in? Are you aware of the role and responsibilities of your team mates?

Do you watch much soccer? Let me re-phrase this question, Do you study soccer? I invite you to study the next game as you watch. This means taking your eye away from the ball focusing on the players.

Watch their movement, the runs they make, their touch on the ball and the passes they complete. Specifically study the players in the position you play. Ask yourself
·        What are they thinking?
·         What are they seeing that helps them make the decisions they make?
·         What are they feeling?

Be position Specific

Choose a player to model who plays in the same position as you. Choose a player whose attributes you’d like to build into your game.

The point is that you choose someone who you believe has the characteristics that your game can build on. Don’t be frightened to act as you watch and picture. Stand up and pretend to trap the ball as your model does. Jump up and win a header just like your model. I want you to literally DO IT! (Nike)

Use their eyes, their heart and their mind

When you watch your models – try to see the world through their eyes . Mentally place yourself in the body of your chosen player. Feel what he/she feels. Think what he/she is thinking. Look where he/she is looking.      

The process of learning from others is a genuine part of your 10,000 hours of training. Simply by watching someone play you are feeding your mind and developing your skill.

Getting the balance

The quantity and quality of your training is a big determinant of your rise or fall as a soccer player. However, it is important to add a sense of patience, calm and relaxation into your training and your game. Driving toward perfection is dangerous – therein lies fear and anger.

                “ Working harder than the opposition only gets you so far. Working with greater quality should                                                be your aim”

                “ Working hard and working with quality despite not feeling your best”

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