Coaches and players are always trying to get better, but sometimes intention does not lead to progression. Success in any field requires training that constantly improves the key aspects of our performance. In performance research the term is known as deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is a highly structured activity engaged in with the goal of improving performance. A great example of this concept in sports comes from Chip Engelland the shooting coach for the World Champion San Antonio Spurs. In 2001, Engelland worked with Steve Kerr, the backup point guard for the Portland Trailblazers, while the latter found himself in a shooting slump.
Kerr, a starter for most of his career, struggled getting warmed up quickly and making shots off the bench. Kerr's initial solution followed the Shooters 101 protocol, mainly that he stay after practice and shoot hundreds of shots from multiple spots on the court. Kerr's strategy did not work. Deliberate practice requires that we go beyond the traditional doctrine and ask what is the specific problem. The challenge then shifts to creating a purposeful training environment to get better. Form and excessive repetition were not Kerr's problem. The real problem was being able to acclimate himself to long periods of bench sitting while remaining prepared physically and mentally for his next shot.
Engelland broke with tradition and created a 30 minute session that required Kerr attempt only seven shots. Kerr sat on the bench as if he were watching a game and after several minutes Engelland would shout at Kerr to go. Kerr would get up and sprint to a spot on the court where Engelland passed him the ball for a jump shot. Following the shot Kerr would return to the bench and wait several minutes for his next shot. The regiment mimicked the in-game scenarios Kerr often found himself in. By practicing deliberately Kerr opened himself to feedback that allowed him to develop physical and mental strategies to stay ready during a game.
For any performance you are trying to improve on take a cue from Kerr's story and investigate how to utilize deliberate practice. Understanding what the true issue is can lead to improved performance and new training methodologies. Some of the most innovative strategies are born during this investigation period. The ultimate goal is to maximize the productive nature of practice while distancing yourself from moments like this.
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