Sunday, September 18, 2011

Deliberate Practice Works

... and some firm love doesn't hurt, either.

My daughter wants to play socer in high school. She's a freshman so this season in club soccer is very important. She's got to spend this season getting ready for the tryouts that are coming up. She's a tough, aggressive player, but her ball control skills were very rough. Enter Deliberate Practice.

In Deliberate Practice, you work with a coach to pick out small, individual skills to work on. You work on one at a time, obsessing on it in individual practice until you've got it down pat. You then move on to the next one. You pick skills that you can almost do right now, not ones that are way out of reach. I made sure she listened to a bit of Talent is Overrated and I explained the technique to her. She bought in to the program initially.

As long as I worked out with her, she practiced cheerfully. On her own, she did nothing. When told she neeeded to seriously work out on her own, she claimed she didn't want to do soccer any more and was just doing it for me. We said we didn't care and she had made a commitment to the other girls and the coach. We had a huge row. Next time she needed to be honest with us and tell us if she didn't want to do something, but for now she was going to do everything she needed to do to get good at the sport. We made support of future hobbies and sports contingent on her being the best player she could possibly be this club season.

At that point, the season had about 4 months to go. It must have seemed like we were condemning her to an eternity of forced labor at that point.

We kept going on the Deliberate Practice and she started working on her own. I found YouTube videos illustrating the techniques she needed to work on and gave her the links. She started getting better. Soon I was coming home and she was telling me how she had worked on this or that after school. I noticed big improvements when we worked out together. Each game she did better and better. She decided she wanted to work on her ball juggling skills and I found her in the Catican one day, going through YouTube, finding instructional videos on her own.

She kept getting better. She was still starting on the bench in games, but soon, when she came in as a sub, she didn't go back out. Other girls got subbed out, but not her.

Yesterday she played the best game of her life. She looked natural and relaxed. For the first time in her playing career, she looked like a soccer player, not a girl playing soccer. While playing right fullback, there was a moment where her goalie was way out of the box and she had to face two opposing players with the ball right in front of the goal. She fought them to a standstill and eventually cleared the ball out of the box.

Her teammates, instead of yelling her name in exasperation, yelled it in praise. She beamed.

Her team is not very good. They got absolutely thumped yesterday, losing 6-0. It didn't matter. She played well and had a great time. We talked on the way home about the game as we always do and she told me how natural she was feeling out on the pitch. It was lovely.

As we've gone through this, we've done our best not to criticize her or do anything to demoralize her. Deliberate Practice is demoralizing enough on it's own. When we go out to the park and practice high ball collections for 85 reps (seriously, we do 50-90 reps on the skill we're praticing), I don't want to be out there with someone who is depressed because Dad's been yelling at her or Mom's been tearing her down. She needs to be as full of energy an enthusiasm as possible. This is tough work.

Deliberate Practice becomes its own reward. When we come home from a game and she talks about how she's feeling better doing this or that, I laugh and say, "It's almost like you've been working on it." She laughs and says, "Yeah, almost." I don't know if she's going to make the high school team, but I'm sure she's learning the more important lessons I want to teach - work leads to success and success leads to happiness.


tom said...

Reminds me of my time in Maryland... CO of the base came out with the sailing club for one of our Wednesday evening races. We botched a few jibes with the spinnaker, so he made us jibe all the way back to our basin. Needless to say, we got pretty good with the whole spinnaker thing in a hurry :-)

K T Cat said...

When you get down to it, it's a pretty simple concept. Practice makes you better.