Tony DeMeo

Practice, Practice, Practice

There’s an old story that goes like this:

Pedestrian holding a violin case approaches a Police Officer in New York City and asks “Excuse me Officer, how do I get Carnegie Hall?” The policeman replies “Practice, Practice, practice.”

Though a cute joke there is a lot of truth in the police officer’s reply. As a College Head Football Coach my main concern is to have a great practice every day all season long. Continuous and never ending improvement was the objective. I wanted our team to get better every day or “Win the Day” as Pete Carroll would say. There is no such thing as the status quo, you either get better or you get worse.

I preached the doctrine that “Practice is Sacred” and wrote about this earlier which goes into some of the nuts and bolts of football practice.

I also studied the idea of “Deep Practice” and consumed Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code which I reviewed earlier on this website Coyle also talked about the 10,000 hour rule.

I felt like if we mastered the process, the product we be better, hence my obsession with practice. Sorry Allen Iverson.

The following is an outstanding article by Darren Hardy, the publisher of Success magazine, that is another look at practice and how to benefit from it. If you get a couple of ideas that will make you and your coaches better that will filter down and make your team perform better which is what coaching is all about.

How to Attack Deliberate Practice: 4 steps
by Darren Hardy

Last week I shared an example of deliberate practice through the story of Kobe Bryant and his insane work ethic. Now before you can attack this idea of deliberate practice, let me help further define it for you so you know how.
Deliberate practice is a highly structured and highly engaged activity with the specific goal of improving performance. Deliberate practice is different from work, play and simple repetition of a task. It requireseffort and it is not necessarily inherently enjoyable. When you engage in deliberate practice, improving your performance over time is your goal and motivation.

That’s not to say that deliberate practice can’t be designed to be fun, but it isn’t inherently enjoyable on its own. If you want to gain skills rapidly or approach expert-level status at something, you must understand the importance of deliberate practice and learn how to incorporate it into your daily process.

Now let me give you the steps to attacking deliberate practice.
With some guidance from K. Anders Ericsson, here are the four essential components of deliberate practice, (and by the way, when these conditions are met, practice improves accuracy and speed of performance on cognitive, perceptual, and motor tasks):

1. You must be motivated to attend to the task and exert effort to improve your performance.

So what are you motivated to significantly improve?

What is something that if you became excellent at it, it would significantly improve your life or bring you great joy and satisfaction? It could be speaking skills, writing, selling, leadership, marriage or parenting skills; it could be an instrument or a sport, whatever is important to you. Just pick something. Pick it right now so you can think about it as we go through the rest of the steps.

You might be asking, but how do you deliberately practice something like leadership? Okay, let’s dig a little deeper.

You often hear that a key element of leadership is persuasive communication, which is true. Being a leader frequently requires standing in front of your employees, clients, investors, your board of directors and attempting to persuade them of one thing or another. What could you do to improve your persuasive communication skills?

Certainly you can study the art and then practice it by doing it. But to be deliberate in the study and improvement of your practice you can become a toastmasters member, take a Dale Carnegie course or even a drama class—environments where you are not going to just be practicing the art, but practicing it under review, analysis and feedback for improvement. Look even Winston Churchill, one of the most charismatic and influential figures of the twentieth century, practiced his persuasive communication and oratory style in front of a mirror.

2. The design of the task should take into account your pre-existing knowledge so that the task can be correctly understood after a brief period of instruction.

In other words, establish a baseline in which to grow from.

3. You should receive immediate and informative feedback and knowledge of results on your performance.

This is tracking. And if you have been following my work for any length of time you know I am a big fan of tracking, so you can visibly see the evidence of progress. That is how the Achievement Management System inside the Living Your Best Year Ever program was designed and why I emphasized tracking so heavily in The Compound Effect. It is essential to your growth and improvement strategy.

4. It’s important to note that without adequate feedback about your performance during practice, efficient learning is impossible and improvement is minimal.

Bottom line, you need a coach, a mentor, a guide, someone outside of yourself to review, analyze and provide viable advice.

Simple practice isn’t enough to rapidly gain skills. Mere repetition of an activity won’t lead to improved performance. If you have a poor golf swing, simply repeating the poor golf swing for 10,000 hours is NOT going to help you. If you have bad marriage skills, more years practicing marriage is not going to make you better.

Your practice must be: intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for your current skill level, combined with immediate feedback and repetition. To benefit from practice and reach your potential, you have to constantly challenge yourself. This doesn’t mean repeatedly doing what you already know how to do. This means understanding your weaknesses and inventing specific tasks in your practice to address those deficiencies. How long you persevere is the only thing that determines your limits.

Becoming an expert is an ultra-marathon, not a sprint. You cannot reach your mental and physical limits in just a few weeks or months. To grow to the top of your game, you’ll have to persevere for years. Your practice has to be deliberate and intense, but it also has to be carefully scheduled and limited in ways to avoid burnout and long-term fatigue (both mental and physical). Motivation becomes the real constraint on expertise. Practice isn’t always fun. It’s an investment into improving yourself, your skills and your future.

So here’s the challenge:

Forget 10,000 hours for right now. Just set a target at 100 hours. Just 100 hours of deliberate practice and improvement on one skill that most improves your life. Can you do it?

Remember, this is on the one skill that most improves your life. Why wouldn’t you? But, remember now, this is focused, tracked and deliberate practice.
Now this is only 90 minutes a day. Hey, take the weekends off, heck knows you don’t want to get too expert too quickly right? Just 90 minutes every workday, in only 3 months you’ll hit 100 hours. Now, once you get there then MAYBE set your sights on the 1,000 hour mark. Then when you get there MAYBE go for mastery level and attack the skill all the way to 10,000.

But forget 10,000 for now, let’s just do 100. You see on the journey of 1,000 miles, the hardest step on the whole journey is that FIRST one. If you think about 10,000 hours, really 10 years of your life, it’s not likely you will even set out on the trip at all. But 100? No problem, you got this. Once you get there then you can re-evaluate. The worst thing that will have happened is you are 100 hours improved on that key skill that matters so much to you and your life. So it’s win-win no matter what.

So Coaches, there are a few different looks at practice. Daily discipline and mastering the process is the key to building a winning program. Remember “Hard Work Works.” Tony DeMeo