Deliberate Practice... By Chad Kanoff
Kobe Bryant was the first person to introduce me to the importance of practice. My dad would always ask me when I was younger what would Kobe do? Would Kobe eat that? Would Kobe go train today? Who he actually was mattered less, but if you read my newsletter piece last week or followed Kobe, you know the man worked as hard as the legend. He explained his simple thought in saying what he told his daughters if they wanted to improve:
“If you play every single day, 2-3 hours, every single day over the course of a year, how much better are you getting? Most kids will play an hour and a half two days a week? Do the math on that. That’s not going to get it done. If you’re obsessively training 2-3 hours every day. Over a year, over two years, you can make quantum leaps.”
Practice makes perfect. There is no substitute for spending time on something. If you train you will get better, and it’s always quite noticeable particularly when you first start doing an activity. Driving, golf, video games, cooking, reading, writing, or basically anything. Most everyone will have this lived experience.
Some will also notice that they start to plateau or not get particularly better at some activities at a certain point. For me, I noticed it quite clearly playing online chess at chess.com. Four years ago my rating was 1200, today my rating is still 1200 despite playing hundreds of additional games. How can that be?
The answer lies in improvement not just being a simple math equation. Practice is incredibly important, but practicing smartly is even more so. What does it mean to practice smartly? Well there’s a whole field in psychology dedicated to this type of effortful highly productive practice and it's called deliberate practice. Here are five key characteristics that define deliberate practice from a book called Talent is Overrated:
1. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, requiring high levels of focus and concentration.
2. It is designed specifically to improve performance—to strengthen it beyond its current levels.
3. It must continue for long periods of time and be repeated.
4. It requires continuous feedback on results (often with a teacher).
5. It involves self-observation and self reflection during the activity and an assessment after.
Practicing this way is often not enjoyable, as it takes a lot of effort. For hobbies, like chess for me, I didn’t think about it and approach it in how to get better. I just played. To actually get better and improve my rating, I’d likely need to get a teacher, get continuous feedback, assess every chess game for mistakes I made, and study the correct moves that I should have made; just playing games doesn’t get you better once you reach a certain level.
Luckily, for the sport that went from passion hobby to career, I had a great coach (the author of this newsletter), who without using the words deliberate practice, designed a practice routine for me that can only be described as deliberate. After my junior high school football season, he printed out a schedule and we wrote out what I would be doing every day in the offseason to become a better player. Lifting, which could be broken into shoulder workouts, chest, core, legs (and that I would record my weights), was four days a week. Footwork I did three days a week, but was also broken down into 1-step, 3-step, pocket movement, general foot speed, and rollouts. And throwing, which I also did three days, and which was broken into throwing 10 yards straight, short right/left, medium right/left, far right/left medium/hard, deeper on a line. Rand even had the humility to bring in another coach that he’d played for to get another eye on my mechanics and further refine them.
Anytime I am on a practice field, I make sure to have intent. What part of my footwork am I working on today? Which throws? Sometimes a video camera is brought out to record the throw, and then after the throw I get immediate feedback on why the ball is good or bad, or how it could be better. After workouts I’d think about how my skills were progressing and what I could improve in the next session. Without realizing it, I have been practicing deliberately for over 10 years, and because of that I’ve gotten better every year through high school, college and the NFL (my completion percentage went from 57%, to 62% to 73% by my senior year of college for instance).
The best part of learning to practice in this way is that you can apply it to other areas where you want to improve. I am going to eventually go to graduate school, so I need to do well on the graduate version of the SAT, called the GRE. To study for that, I created a daily schedule for three months, figured out my weaknesses (difficult word math problems, and vocab), paid for a software called Magoosh that has lesson videos and immediate feedback on question answers, and then at the end of each week I tweaked the study schedule to things I need. My score has improved 10 points in six weeks, and I’m confident that in another six I will get the score I need.
The key is having a plan and then executing it in a thoughtful way. If you want to get better at something, do it today!
***For anyone interested in surfing, an activity I’ve tried to get better at, an almost neurotic list of all the skills you’d need (and a good example of the detail in breaking down what you want to work on) can be found here https://surfsimply.com/tree-of-knowledge/