If you can measure it, you can improve it!

    The coach's role in creating a deliberate practice environment

    Deliberate practice is one of the key elements of sport talent development. The notion that 'practice makes perfect' has been around a while but Benjamin Bloom's 1985 study called the Development of Talent highlighted a special kind of practice called deliberate practice. Practicing deliberately involves four components:

    1. Motivation - The athlete must want to improve. This takes effort that involves both physical and mental energy.
    2. Understanding - The athlete must understand why he is practicing and how the skills he possesses and the new skills he is practicing are integrated both with each other and into the context of the sport.
    3. Master coaching - Feedback from a master coach is important in the deliberate practice loop. Without information about the quality or accuracy of practice the athlete will not be practicing skills correctly.
    4. Repetition - Developing excellence takes time and whether it is the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice discussed in popular media or something different, correct repetition of skills is part of deliberate practice. For many sport skills automaticity of performance is important and this can only be achieved through many practice repetitions.

    The coach's role

    The coach has a pivotal role to play in helping athletes engage in deliberate practice. Aside from the obvious task of providing appropriate feedback, the coach of an individual or team sport has the additional role of igniting the athlete's passion for the activity. Coyle outlines three stages of talent creation in The Talent Code with ignition of passion for the activity being the first one.

    The examples Coyle provides have little applicability to organized sport: Skateboarders who form an unlikely group guided by an almost Obiwan Kenobi character, tennis players that excel in the most unlikely of circumstances, and underprivileged footballers in Brazil who have no proper training facility but yet who all achieve a level of expertise no one would expect. Ignition has somehow taken place in all of these examples or else none of the athletes in Coyle's book would have been interested in deliberate practice. This is the key point of talent development. Deliberate practice, the second of Coyle's three stages, cannot or will not take place unless a passion for the activity has first been ignited.

    At the youth level most youngsters begin their sport participation in some sort of organized team or league. They join for various reasons; they like the activity, they want to play with their friends, parents sign them up. It's not a certainty but it is probably safe to say that most children do not register for youth sport programs because they are passionate about the sport, that comes later and the responsibility for helping to develop this passion falls to the coach.

    Young athletes cannot be expected to know or even care about the elements of deliberate practice. At the early stages of their youth sport participation the joy and enthusiasm that may spark the eventual ignition of passion for an activity has to be provided by the coach. Creating a genuinely fun atmosphere, devising challenges that keep youngsters attention on skills and strategies, and exhibiting a real interest in each youngster both as a person and athlete will keep kids coming back to practice often. This is the environment that ignition, if it is to occur at all, will most likely spring from in organized youth sport.

    A youth sport coach should also encourage participation in a number of activities, thus taking advantage of cross-domain benefits while still performing deliberate practice. The coach should recognize that cross-domain participation is essential if problems associated with early single-sport specialization such as overuse injuries and boredom are to be avoided.

    Finally, a coach should understand the relationship between ignition and deliberate practice. Deliberate practice needs to be an ongoing endeavor and unless the young athlete has a passion for the sport the quality of the practice they engage in will not be sufficient to be called deliberate. Also, since most practice sessions at the youth sport stage are coach-directed the coach needs to do all he can to create practice routines that challenge youngsters both mentally and physically while always aware that the activities have to be fun.

    Deliberate practice cannot be required at the early stages of a youngster's sport participation; creating situations that encourage deliberate practice mindsets are the coach's responsibility. Likewise, long-term deliberate practice will not occur without ignition and although the coach can't force this to happen he can help to create the environment where it becomes possible.

    Bill Price (price@sportkid.asia) is the owner and Chief Data Scientist at Sportkid Metrics.


    Don't miss any content
    Subscribe Now!

    The nine pillars of sport development - 02 May 2021

    Using training age to gauge athlete experience - 18 April 2021

    What would you do differently if there were no such thing as talent? - 04 April 2021

    Athlete development measurements and the lingo that goes with them - 21 March 2021

    Retention and Training Age - 07 March 2021

    Fear of missing out is hurting youth sports - 23 October 2018

    Deliberate practice vs. late specialization - 24 September 2018

    Is talent identification even possible? - 17 September 2018

    Who won the Asian Games? - 10 September 2018

    Re-thinking the mission of Malaysia's sport associations - 03 September 2018

    Using maturity offsets to determine age at peak height velocity - 27 August 2018

    The youth sport talent illusion - 13 August 2018

    The tip of the iceberg - 30 July 2018

    7 things youth sport coaches should know - 25 June 2018

    Who is responsible for athlete performance - 18 June 2018

    Creating a culture of achievement in sport - 05 June 2018

    Sport development in the headlines (sort of) - 28 May 2018

    Who won the Commonwealth Games? - 23 April 2018

    Kaizen: Improving sport administration will improve performance - 02 April 2018

    What can Malaysia learn from Norway about sport development? - 05 March 2018

    Dealing with more than one email address and other communication ideas - 26 February 2018

    What can you do to work more efficiently? - 19 February 2018

    LTAD: Training to compete - 22 January 2018

    Sport clubs are the lifeblood of national sport development - 15 January 2018

    Take a chance! - 18 December 2017

    How we calculate age in youth sports can have benefits and consequences - 11 December 2017

    Can bio-banding help reduce the relative age effect in sport? - 04 December 2017

    Understanding the role that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play in the athlete development process - 20 November 2017

    Great expectations: Expect more, get more! - 14 November 2017

    Why process is more important than outcome in a learning environment - 25 September 2017

    Sport associations are embracing physical literacy training - 18 September 2017

    Creating a true sport development system in Malaysia - 11 September 2017

    Who won the SEA Games? - 04 September 2017

    KL2017: Reporting individual sport results deserved better planning - 29 August 2017

    Can we please forget about ways to identify talent and just work on getting more athletes? - 07 August 2017

    Using the team selection process to boost motivation and increase athlete participation - 24 July 2017

    LTAD: The Train to Train stage - 10 July 2017

    LTAD: The Learn-to-Train stage - 26 June 2017

    Athletic training for youngsters - 12 June 2017

    Visualization and imagery in sports - 05 June 2017

    Young, single-sport athletes suffer more injuries and do not reach their full potential - 29 May 2017

    Transformational vs. transactional coaching - 23 May 2017

    Will they come back tomorrow? - 08 May 2017

    Advice to parents of young athletes - 01 May 2017

    Is VIP leadership of sport associations a good idea? - 22 March 2017

    What happens after an athlete's initial introduction to sport? - 27 February 2017

    "Where do athletes come from?" - 16 January 2017

    Understanding sport talent pathways - 09 January 2017

    Make 2017 the year of the growth mindset - 02 January 2017

    Teaching physical literacy skills in youth sport practices - 12 December 2016

    Developing sport from the ground up - 06 December 2016

    Pay for what you want - 21 November 2016

    The 10,000 hour rule: "Not for the faint of heart nor for the impatient" - 14 November 2016

    Parent involvement in their child's sport participation sometimes backfires - 07 November 2016

    How to do the measurements for determining peak height velocity (PHV) - 24 October 2016

    A foreign coach is not always the answer - 17 October 2016

    Tips on creating an effective coaching environment - 10 October 2016

    Peak height velocity and aerobic development - 26 September 2016

    Early sport specialization is still not a good idea - 19 September 2016

    What kind of data do we need to develop sports? - 13 September 2016

    The attrition and transformation models of sport development - 05 September 2016

    Solve for <x> - 29 August 2016

    Artificial elimination of athletes from training and competition hinders sport development in Malaysia - 15 August 2016

    Time is the most important factor in talent development - 01 August 2016

    What if opportunity never knocks? - 13 June 2016

    The long-term athlete development framework offers youngsters a chance at sport success and an active and healthy life - 06 June 2016

    Early sport specialization is not a good development strategy - 30 May 2016

    What does a declining population mean for sport? - 2 February 2016

    Coaching 'flow' - 11 November 2015

    The coach's role in creating a deliberate practice environment - 02 November 2015

    When should athletes specialize in a single sport? - 11 September 2015

    The Holy Grail of health, wellness, and sport development - 1 September 2015

    Revisiting the 10,000 hour rule - 10 August 2015

    The power of 'not yet' - 20 July 2015

    Let's stop trying to identify sport talent and start developing it - 22 June 2015