Monday, May 23, 2016

Practice and Your Comfort Zone

"If it feels good, you ain't doing it right." Scott Cochran, University of Alabama Football Head Strength and Conditioning Coach

As part of my commitment to my own development as a coach I read constantly. Thanks to Amazon and the Kindle, I will have four or five books going at any given time. Over the last six or seven years I've become particularly interested in the neurological aspects of physical training: neuroplasticity, performance and fatigue, psychology, systems theory, motor learning and long term athlete development.

As a result of my reading, I have been pushed and pulled in a variety of directions. Sometimes I will be reading a couple of books on similar topics that will directly contradict each other in important ways: The Talent Code vs The Sports Gene come to mind. Getting comfortable with the discomfort of Cognitive Dissonance seems to go with the territory.

I just recently began digging into Anders Ericsson's new book on expertise entitled Peak and I wanted to share a couple of ideas from that book that grounded some of the more disparate concepts I have been juggling lately.

Genes
Genetics matter. They matter a lot. But they don't absolutely determine success. Starting young is a big deal too. Many if not most experts began their sports at a young age. However, there is a not so fine line between developing oerall as a young athlete and specializing too soon. The only two sports that actually require pre-teen specialization for elite performance are Ping Pong and Gymnastics (Balyi) otherwise learning and playing a variety of sports and games in childhood makes for better specialists down the road.

Practice
Deliberate focused practice is the biggest determinant of success in any field. (Ericsson is the father of the "10,000 hours to expertise" rule)  And I am fond of thinking of strength training as a practice. Certainly the sport of weightlifting is a practice too. But merely putting in the time is not enough. Indeed, if you just go through the motions, you not only will not improve, your skills will deteriorate. Mindful practice (which includes not just focusing on your acitvity but also paying attention to performance feedback from coaches, peers and video and making adjustments as needed) is key. Think "Top Gun" practice.

Challenge
Monotony kills progress and promotes deterioration of skills. Doing the same workout over and over again with the same weights, set and rep scheme is a sure way to go backwards. Effective practice requires you to constantly challenge yourself and get outside your comfort zone. For example, maybe you come into practice with the goal of missing no attempts. Or tmaybe taking an extra rep or set to make it "perfect."  Some of the ways I program technical challenges into the Weightlifting programs is to use blocks, partial movements, power movements and drills. It is up to the athlete to get the most out of these "obstacles" as possible.

Try bringing your own challenges to bear on your practice. Instead of trying harder, try differently (Ericsson). You should see your abilities and skills improve and it will make your practice time more interesting to boot!