MY FAVORITE study of deliberate practice for athletes - improving performance AND practice behaviors
You may not be an avid golfer - but if you are an athlete (or any professional in sales, coaching, etc) you definitely want to read this post! We are going to dive into the powerful effects of incorporating deliberate practice into your daily routine. The impressive thing about this study is that it connects the concept (of deliberate practice) with the practical. Many concepts sound great but often times we struggle to apply them in real life. Check out the title of the study below and pay attention to the highlighted words.
My favorite part of this study is that it focuses on two key components: performance AND practice behaviors. Many times athletes implement a practice plan to improve a specific skill. But when they don't see the intended results within the first week or two, they give up on their practice plan. Commitment and motivation fade. The belief..."I tried and failed to see results" is adopted. This debilitating belief pushes the athlete into a fixed mindset without them even noticing. Worse yet, their fixed mindset negatively affects future practice behaviors. This is the detrimental result of focusing only on short-term results and neglecting practice behaviors.
focusing only on short-term results distracts us from molding optimal practice behaviors - which are the key to long-term results
Mindset affects behaviors. Behaviors determine results. Therefore, let's help athletes focus on the behaviors (growth mindset and deliberate practice) that produce long-term results.
With this in mind - let's check out this real life example of a deliberate practice intervention with young golfers!
Deliberate Practice Design
This study examined the impact that a deliberate practice intervention had upon the putting performance and practice behaviors of 5 young golfers. Like many athletes, these 5 golfers held the belief that they would improve performance by simply playing more golf - as demonstrated in the quote below from a participant...
"My golf routine was just practicing on the course really, nine holes in the morning and nine in the afternoon during the holidays and summer and hardly anything in the winter except for the games for my club."
I’m sure you and your teammates can relate to the approach above (i.e. the more I play the better I’ll get). This is a perfect approach if you want to be average. But if your intention is to get better, then you must learn how to deliberately practice.
deliberate practice is an essential life skill that equips people with an effective approach to develop their skills - way more important than any individual sport or technical skill
Here’s how they designed the deliberate practice sessions for these aspiring golfers to improve putting performance:
- Each Friday the golfers would measure their putting performance by taking 10 putts (at different locations) from a distance of eight feet. Performance is measured by awarding 1 point for each made putt and 0 points for a missed putt.
- Golfers would deliberately practice 4 times a week (Mon-Thur). Each session was designed to take about 20-30 minutes to complete. Participants would precisely place 10 tees into the ground at varying distances: 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27 and 30 feet respectively. They would putt once at each distance and were awarded 2 points for a make, and minus a point for a miss. They would go through this drill twice for a total of 20 putts.
How simple is that?!?! My favorite part of the deliberate practice sessions is that they focused on quality over quantity (only 20 total putts each day!). Second, they developed a simple scoring system to measure their performance.
Impact on Putting Performance
So these golfers were taking only 20 putts each deliberate practice session. Most importantly, each putt was a purposeful rep.
So what type of impact would you expect 20 putts a day to have on performance? Look at the pictures below for results of each participant. The graphs represent the putting performance of each participant measured on a weekly basis. The yellow line indicates the start of the deliberate practice intervention. The last picture highlights the performance improvement for all 5 participants: 61%, 34%, 30%, 19%, and 15% respectively.
As you look at the results of this simple intervention, I ask you to share one important message with your team...
Skill development does NOT follow a consistent path towards improvement (as seen in the graphs below). You don't practice one day (or one week) and wake up tomorrow magically better. It's ugly at times. It's difficult to stick with it. But if you commit to deliberate practice, you will enjoy improved results over time - as demonstrated in this study. You must have the grit to persist through adversity even when you don't see the short-term results...yet!!
Impact on Practice Behaviors
While results are great, my mission with Flow Training is ultimately to help teams and individuals create more effective practice behaviors - because the quality of your mindset and practice behaviors will determine your results. This study is so important because it demonstrated the impact that deliberate practice had upon results AND future practice behaviors.
After 5 months the researchers followed up with participants to assess the qualitative impact of the intervention. Check out the responses:
- "This was something really different but useful for me to get better and it was so much harder doing that than playing nine holes with my mates. This is the best block of training I have ever done and I actually really liked doing it and it has sort of made me realize I can be really good at this game if I work hard enough."
- "The drill was hard and really needed focusing on, which I liked as I don't really do this at all normally in practice or in my matches."
- "This is so different to what I normally do but I'm sticking with it because it will get me to where I want to be in a few more years time once I have finished college."
- "I have spent much more time recently on the greens instead of traveling around and playing on the college tours and if you would have asked me that at the start of the year I would have laughed as I was just playing all the time thinking this was the only way to improve."
- "I now use lots of putting practices instead of just moping around the putting green and hitting random shots."
If you takeaway anything from this study, let it be this...
Stop wasting your time with naive practice. And stop focusing on short-term results. Learn the core components of deliberate practice (learn more here), then apply those behaviors into your daily practice routine. Remember, your journey to skill improvement begins with the belief (i.e. growth mindset) that you can improve. Don't let poor practice behaviors and a fixed mindset derail your development goals.
If you are digging this post share it with your team, leave a comment below, or tweet it to the world! I'd love to hear how you and your team are implementing deliberate practice to improve your skills. You can find more information on related posts below...
Hayman, Rick; Polman, Remco; Borkoles, Erika; Taylor, Jamie. The Influence of a Deliberate Practice Intervention on the Putting Performance and Subsequent Practice Behaviors of Aspiring Elite Adolescent Golfers. Talent Development & Excellence: Vol 5, No. 2, 2013.
The Response-able Leader Tool. How to teach your athletes the skill of responding proactively to adversity.
In this 2 Minute Drill we break down an essential skill for all leaders...the ability to respond. We call this being response-able. Check out this video and share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you haven’t signed-up for our Flow Training newsletter yet...what are you waiting for??
Have you ever been taught how to practice a skill? Probably not! In the 2 Minute Drill below we break down the 4 essential steps you can use to break down a skill and practice it with intention and purpose. We answer the question...What is deliberate practice? Enjoy!
Oh yeah...one more thing! I'd love to hear from you about what topics you'd like to see in a future 2 Minute Drill video. These brief videos are meant to be shared with your team to start a conversation about topics that will help you perform better individually and collectively.
Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may have learned about a growth mindset. But how can you hold yourself accountable to actually practice and develop a growth mindset? In the 2 Minute Drill video below, you will learn 5 simple steps that you can begin practicing now! Check it out and share in the comments what step you would like to practice. If you have another way to practice a growth mindset...share the love with the rest of us!
To be in “flow” means to perform up to our potential in the present moment. It’s a time that we feel our best and perform our best. We lose track of time because we are so engrossed in the moment. Our focus is solely on the present, not worrying about the past or the future. We are in the zone!So how do we get in flow? Let’s walk through the 5 Flow Principles!
Principle 1: Mindset
Mindset is defined as a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determines our attitude, outlook and actions (AOA). It’s basically the lenses we see the world through.
Imagine every morning you put on a pair of glasses. One pair of glasses has green colored lenses. Whenever you see the world through the green glasses your mind can only see learning opportunities. You embrace challenges. You view setbacks as something to learn from. You view hard work as an opportunity to test your limits physically and mentally. You consider feedback (good or bad) as something to learn from. And you are inspired by the success of others because you can learn from them.
The other pair of glasses has red colored lenses. Whenever you see the world through the red glasses your mind can only see the negative. You avoid challenges. You give up anytime you run into adversity. You act like you aren’t trying very hard because you fear the disappointment of giving your best effort and still failing. You avoid any and all feedback because you believe that constructive feedback is a reflection of your personal identity, instead of simply information to improve the way you do something. And you are threatened by others’ success because it feels like you are never going to make it to their level.
Which glasses would you rather put on each day? The green or the red? Of course the green! But many of us do not consciously choose. We have ingrained habits that choose for us. And often times that choice (or lack thereof) prevents us from seeing the opportunity to learn and grow.
The first step in the mindset principle is to help you become aware of which colored glasses you put on each day. In other words, become aware of the powerful impact your beliefs have on your attitude, outlook, and actions. Learning to develop a growth mindset — as world renowned psychologist Carol Dweck coined it — will help you put on those green glasses each day.
And if you are part of a team…imagine the impact if all team members put on their green glasses each day, each practice, each game. Remember…attitudes are contagious. So help your team put on the green glasses!
If you believe in this message and want to help your team, share it with someone that can go on the journey with you by supporting each other and holding one another accountable to put your green glasses on each day.
I got a challenge for you. Could you remember all the digits below if I read them aloud 1 per second?
2 5 7 4 2 7 9 2 7 4 1 0 2 9 4 6 4 0 1 3 2 0 8 5 7 3 2 8 7 6 4 9 2 1 0 5 6 8 7 4 3 4 6 7 8 0 1 3 2 5 3 6 4 8 6 9 0 7 6 8 5 2 5 4 6 4 7 9 6 5 2 5 3 7 8 6 5 3 1 4 2 3 6 8 0 8 4
Of course not!
Especially since your memory is something that you can't really change...right?? Well...not so fast.
So that's exactly what my guy, Anders Ericsson, wanted to test. He believes that people can dramatically improve their skills IF they practice the right way...which he coined deliberate practice.
To test this theory, he recruited a college student at Carnegie Mellon University named Steve Faloon. Steve was a dedicated cross-country runner and was a prime candidate for the study because he possessed the 2 essential pre-requisites to develop any skill...
Well by the end of his first practice session, Steve could remember 7 digits...a very average performance. Then after 200+ deliberate practice sessions, Steve broke the world record by remembering over 80 digits.
Now let's dive into the 4 principles of deliberate practice so you can take your skills from average to world class!
To help us understand what we should and should not do during practice, Anders breaks down the difference between naive practive and deliberate practice.
Naive practice is how most people spend their time practicing. It's the belief that repetition will lead to improvement.
This group of people practice without specific and well defined goals, they practice on auto-pilot (meaning they do things the same way as they have in the past), they rarely receive feedback during practice, and they love staying within their comfort zone.
People that practice this way may consider themselves to have 10 years of experience, but they actually experience the same thing every year for 10 straight years. It's no wonder these people don't see improvement after the first year! And they convince themselves that the skill must be innate because practice (i.e. experience) doesn't help.
Well let's look at how Steve Faloon deliberately practiced to become a world-class performer.
Create specific & well defined micro-goals. Steve had clear practice goals during every practice session. For example, he first measured his ability to remember digits, which he remembered five his first attempt. Then he'd try six. If successful, he'd try seven. If unsuccessful at seven, he'd go back to six. Being specific about your goals is important for two reasons. First, you ensure the challenges are appropriate for your skill level. You want the challenge to be just beyond your current skill level, but not so much that you get overwhelmed. I call these 1-step challenges (which we covered in the Flow 2 Minute Drill Video). Second, being clear on your practice goals enhances instrinsic motivation because you are tracking your progress. Progress is essential. And it will help you motivate yourself to practice because it feels like an investment rather than an expense. It doesn't matter if the micro-goals are arbitrary. You just want to divide a goal (or skill) into manageable steps so there is a sense of achievement when completing each step.
Disciplined Focus. Can you dedicate a chunk of time almost every day to master your craft? Well, if you want to develop a skill - and stop wasting time - you must mentally prepare yourself by removing distractions and committing to an intense period of deliberate practice. This is so important because improving a skill typically involves a commitment to practice a mundane task with lots of repetition, focus, and intensity. Focus and intensity usually fall victim when repeating the same tasks every day and we slip into the mindless practice trap. Therefore, practicing a skill with intense focus is a skill in itself, and essential to deliberate practice.
Feedback. Feedback helps you make the necessary adjustments to improve your performance. But it's not for the faint of heart. If you are serious about improving, you must seek all feedback with an open mind and not take anything personal. Many people avoid honest feedback because they attach their self-worth to their performance. To someone with a fixed mindset, receiving negative feedback is a clear indicator that they are a failure. Giving up is the likely option, instead of embracing feedback and learning from past mistakes. Don't take it personal. Feedback - good or bad - is simply information to help you adjust and improve your performance.
Comfort zone. Once Steve succeeded with a challenge it was on to the next. He started at 5 digits then developed his skills to remember over 80 digits. He was constantly stretching his ability. He was always seeking improvement. He didn't waste time practicing at a level that he already mastered. He learned to always embrace new challenges.
Now think about your last practice session. Were you practicing naively or deliberately? Use these keys to maximize your practice time and develop your skills like a pro!
Spread the deliberate practice love by sharing these 4 keys with someone you want to help master their skills!
Anders Ericsson uses a great analogy in the book to help us understand the importance of deliberate practice...
You wish to climb a mountain. You're not sure how high you want to go - that peak looks an awfully long way off - but you know you want to get higher than you currently are. You could simply take off on whichever path looks promising and hope for the best, but you're probably not going to get very far. Or you could rely on a guide who has been to the peak and knows the best way there. That will guarantee that no matter how high you decide to climb, you are doing it in the most efficient, effective way. That best way is deliberate practice, and this book is your guide. It will show you the path to the peak; how far you travel along that path is up to you.
I love this analogy because it's so true. How many of us just "wing it" each day? We are satisfied with being "good enough". Rather than focusing on a specific skill to deliberately practice today, we just keep doing the same things, the same way, and getting the same results.
Deliberate practice is the opposite of "good enough". It's a commitment to consistently get a little bit better each day. It's about taking ownership of your own learning and development and doing so in the most effective and efficient way possible. Learning the principles of deliberate practice is like the old saying..."Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."
Constantly developing your skills has never been more important in today's society. It's not a luxury anymore. It's a requirement for individuals and organizations to survive.
To understand the importance of deliberate practice, it's essential to know where we came from...
A few decades ago, most people believed that we were born with certain gifts. Personality, athleticism, sales-ability, leadership, etc...and the list goes on. These are just a few qualities that many people believed were innate (i.e. they couldn't really be changed). Now it's true that some people are blessed with advantageous genetics, but that is simply the starting line. Not the finish line.
We marvel at the accomplishments of the best athletes, entrepreneurs, and leaders, and convince ourselves that they are so special because they are so talented. But the best of the best aren't so special because of their genetics. There are plenty of talented people that never reach their potential.
The best athletes/leaders/etc are special because they have mastered the greatest skill of all...the ability to constantly develop their skills.
They never wake up and say "I'm good enough". They are in constant pursuit of getting better at something. They embrace the challenges. Seek feedback. Take ownership of their learning and developing. And practice a growth mindset.
So how far will you go up that mountain? Well that's up to you. But learning and applying the principles of deliberate practice will ensure you progress in the most efficient and effective way possible.
In part 3 we will cover the 4 steps to apply deliberate practice.
So join the party, get in the FLOW, and enjoy the book review posts about the book, Peak, and deliberate practice!
Deliberate practice (DP) is a structured approach for practicing a specific skill in the most effective and efficient way possible. Below are 7 things you should know to make deliberate practice part of your development routine. These are taken from the book by Anders Ericsson, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.
I first heard this analogy used by Tim Elmore...the thermometer and thermostat. This simple analogy will help your team members easily identify how they respond to adversity, and understand how their response impacts the team. Share it with them and ask them how they can respond more like a thermostat!
Think about the last time your team experienced adversity. Maybe it was a major change (like losing your head coach or boss) that killed morale for a months. Or maybe it was losing a game that had a negative impact on your team for just a day.
Either way, people tend to respond to adversity as a thermometer or thermostat.
A thermometer reflects the temperature of its environment. It simply reacts. If it's hot, the thermometer changes to hot. If it's cold, the thermometer changes to cold. The thermometer has no influence or impact on its environment. It just reflects and reacts to the environment.
On the other hand, a thermostat regulates the temperature. If the weather is cold, the thermostat will add warm air. If it's too hot, the thermostat will add cold air. The thermostat has clear boundaries and knows exactly when to warm or cool its environment. Its job is to impact and change the environment based on its own set of standards.
The main difference is...a thermometer is controlled by its environment. A thermostat creates its environment.
Every day you are presented with opportunities to be controlled by your environment or create it. Which will you choose?
Pass this along to a teammate that has your back and will help you be more like a thermostat!
A resource to help Student-Athlete Leaders (captains) embrace healthy conflict and enhance accountability with their teammates
We have all been there...
You are an upper-classman on the team. Your skills probably won't take you to the pros but you are a solid player. You are the classic "lead by example" type, always giving positive energy to your teammates.
Your team is 18-5 and preparing for playoffs. Two very talented sophomores have taken the team to another level with their unique offensive skills. Although, they wouldn't be described as great "team players".
During practice the day before your first playoff game, your team goes through a series of shell drills. The team is split on both ends of the court. The head coach is at one end, and you (as the team captain) are leading the drill at the other end. One of the talented sophomores let's it be known that he has no interest in the drill...especially with the coach at the other end. He's late on every rotation, won't stay in his stance, and barely communicates with his teammates.
As a lead-by-example type of captain, you try to positively encourage the whole team, but it has no effect on the talented sophomore. You feel the resentment building from other players, yet no one says a word. You consider the impact of calling him out, but eventually decide to let it slide, reasoning with yourself that you don't want to mess up the team chemistry before the big game.
Now take a second to reflect; how have you responded in the past to similar situations?
I'm sure you can relate to the scenario above. Everyone has a person on their team that sucks the energy from the team with their poor behavior. Unfortunately, this is more common than not with teams...in sports and in the boardroom.
Situations like this have two problems...(1) your lead-by-example style is not effective, and (2) your teammates are scared to give constructive feedback to one another.
This type of situation leads to a team filled with resentment, grudges, and interpersonal conflict. "Artificial harmony" and low accountability prospers during meetings and practice, and the result is toxic conversations in the locker room or at the water cooler.
Equipping leaders with the tools of how to overcome these issues is a skill set that can set your team apart from the competition.
I just finished the book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, and can't recommend it enough to help the leaders on your team to identify and address the fundamental issues that hold teams back.
The book dives into the essential skills of building trust, dealing with conflict, commitment, accoutability, and focusing on team results instead of individual results.
If you are looking for a resource to challenge your team members to embrace open & honest discussions, enhance commitment, and encourage team members to hold each other accountable, this book could be a great resource in your toolbox.
Below is a summary of the 5 Dysfunctions:
If you're diggin the 5 Dysfunctions...pass on the love to a teammate and let us know on Twitter or FB.