Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Lion’s Den Blog – Sustaining Progress

 From a distance, top performers seem to live charmed, cushy lives, as is the perception of my daughter. When you look closer, however, you’ll find that they spend vast portions of their life intensively practicing their craft. Their mind-set is not entitled or arrogant; it’s 100% blue collar: They get up in the morning and go to work every day, whether they feel like it or not.
                As the artist Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

Games are fun. Soccer tournaments are exciting. Contests are thrilling. They also slow skill development, for four reasons:
1.       The presence of other people diminishes an appetite for risks, nudging you away from the sweet spot.
2.       Matches reduce the number of quality reps.
3.       The pressure of games distorts priorities, encouraging shortcuts in technique.
4.       Matches encourage players, coaches, and parents to judge success by the scoreboard rather than by how much was learned.
At Amsterdam Ajax FC , the soccer club in Holland, coaches enforce a simple rule: Young players must practice for three years before entering competitive tournaments. (Honoring the Hard Skills). While I can’t imagine that such a rule would fly in America (‘Shocking’), it reflects Ajax’s determination to build trusty, reliable passing, shooting and receiving techniques before injecting the distorting pressures of competition. This has awarded the Ajax club to be the Number 1 youth development club in Europe.

                But don’t get me wrong. Public competition is a great thing. It teaches invaluable lessons about teamwork, it helps build emotional control, and it’s fun. But it’s also, in many cases, a deeply inefficient way to improve skill. One solution to the problem is to make public performance a special occasion, not a routine. A five-to-one ratio of practice time to performance time is a good starting point; ten-to-one is even better.

                ‘A coach must help a young soccer player develop both competence AND confidence. 
                                      It is skill AND will that drive consistent high performance’

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