Monday, April 8, 2013

Improvement of Skills

Just thought you might be interested in some tips to improve your game: 

Break every move down into chunks: From the time we're small, we hear this good advice from our parents and teachers: "Take it a little bit at a time." This advice works because it accurately reflects the way our brains learn. Every skill is built out of smaller pieces--what scientists call chunks. (the science of soccer is what i do). Chunks are to skill what letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words/skills), and when those chunks are combined into still bigger things (sentences, paragraphs/receiving, connecting passes/patterns in the game), they can build something complex and beautiful.

To begin chunking, first engrave the blueprint of the skill on your mind. Then ask yourself:
1. What is the smallest single element of this skill that I can master?
2. What other chunks link to that chunk?

Practice one chunk by itself until you've mastered it--then connect more chunks, one by one, exactly as you would combine letters to form a word. Then combine those chunks into still bigger chunks. And so on. Musicians, like soccer players cut apart musical scores or passing sequences into the attacking third with scissors and put the pieces in a hat, then pull each section out at random. Then, after the chunks are learned separately, they start combining them in the correct order, like team building, like so many puzzle pieces. "It works because the students/players aren't just playing the music on autopilot---they're thinking,! " words I've remembered all my life!

No matter what skill(s) you set out to learn, the pattern is always the same: See the whole thing. Break it down to its simplest elements. Put it back together. REPEAT !!! This is how I coach, and how you play and why my success with teams and players has been better than most! Trying to get better each day, each chunk at a time! Just like YOU!

In our busy lives, it's sometimes tempting to regard merely practicing as a success. We complete the appointed hour & a half and sigh victoriously---mission accomplished! But the real goal isn't practice; it's progress. As John Wooden put it, "never mistake mere activity for accomplishment."

One useful method is to set a daily SAP: smallest achievable perfection. In this technique, you pick a single chunk that you can perfect---not just improve, not just "work on" but get 100 % consistently correct. For example a soccer player might choose the service of a ball with backspin; a tennis player might choose the service toss. The point is to take the time to aim at small, defined target, and then put all your effort toward hitting it.

After all, you aren't built to be transformed in a single day. You are built to improve little by little, connection by connection, rep by rep. "Don't look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens---and when it happens, it lasts!!!

At all of the talent hotbeds, from Moscow to Valencia to Frankfurt to Dallas to DC, I saw the same facial expression: eyes narrow, jaw tight, nostrils flared, the face of someone intently reaching for something, falling short, and reaching again. This is not coincidence. Deep practice and deep thought has a telltale emotional flavor, a feeling that can be summed up in one word: "Struggle"

Most of us instinctively avoid struggle because it's uncomfortable. It feels like failure. However, when it comes to continuing the development of your talent, struggle isn't an option---it's a biological necessity. This might sound strange, but it's the way evolution has built us. The struggle and frustration you feel at the edges of your abilities---that uncomfortable burn of  "almost, almost"---is the sensation of constructing new neural connections, a phenomenon that I call "desirable difficulty." Your brain works just like your muscles: no pain, no gain!!!

"Deep practice is not measured in minutes or hours, but in number of high-quality reaches and repetitions you make--basically, how many new connections you form in your brain."

Instead of counting minutes or hours, count reaches and reps. Instead of saying, "I'm going to practice juggling for 20 minutes", tell yourself, " I'm going to take 25 quality shots with both feet, hitting in clean, or taking 25 services from each side of the field.  Instead of reading over that textbook for an hour, make flash cards and grade yourself on your efforts. Ignore the clock and get to the sweet spot, even if it's only for a few minutes, and measure your progress by what counts: reaches and reps!

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