I can still remember the day I walked out of the Randwick Rugby Club gym in Sydney, at the age of 15.5 having just finished my first solo strength session. My "strut" on exiting the building was ridiculous! I felt so pumped that I thought I was easily the biggest guy on the face of the earth. I wanted to sprint, I wanted to tackle, I couldn't wait for the winter to roll around so I could play rugby...I was hooked.
Those humble beginnings were only preceded by two quick lessons in the gym delivered by my Dad and one of the "old diggers" who trained a few of the senior players. Without questions I was off. The only thing that held me back was the availability of weight in that little gym. My skills improved at every session and there is no doubt I was was driven to extract as much out of myself as possible.
When I look back at that now, and consider how quickly I moved forward principally on my own, and compare that to the way we currently handle 17-18yr olds, I do wonder if we over complicate the process for young athletes in the gym.
Back to that in a moment. Follow me here...
Through the week I was privileged to witness a fantastic coaching review in which the principle of Deep Practice as defined by Daniel Coyle in his book Talent Code, was explained in the context of the session that had just been completed. The thrust of the review was that practice alone won't do it. Just turning up and getting through won't progress either your physical skill or specific cognitive abilities. You have to be engaged and focused on the nuances of what you are doing, constantly self assessing and making micro adjustments to perfect your art.
There are two elements associated with Deep Practice (Coyle) which I think are central to success in developing athletes;
Targeted, mistake-focused practice - "fire a neural circuit, attend to mistakes, then fire it again, over and over...biological adaptation requires the struggle for perfection!"
Passion and Persistence - "big neural circuits (the most effective ones) require immense energy and time...if you don't love it you'll never work hard enough to be great!"
Kids in this, the iGen, are often too easily satisfied by having things readily available to them. Everything from parents entertaining them too much out of a desire to "do the right thing", to professional athletic careers handed to them on a plate because corporate football (whatever code) doesn't want to miss out on the "talent".
Over the last few weeks I've been working with a coach on my Mentorship program, guiding his design of a S&C development model for the environment in which he is employed. One of the most shocking comments the coach made to me was with regard to some of the "more talented" players in his charge who didn't feel compelled to train because in their words they would "get picked anyway". WTF!
So, bringing my eclectic thoughts together...
Success of any kind requires a passion to drive it and work to perfect it! As S&C coaches we must ensure;
- We educate our young athletes to achieve the highest level of skills, but let them off the leash at times so they develop an ability to internally regulate and thereby engage in "mistake-focused practice" and in turn drive their neuromuscular adaptation.
- Don't over complicate programs. Keep them simple and focus on the quality of execution, the persistence to get it right and the passion to give it everything.
- Help kids develop a passion for all elements of their preparation by clearly illustrating the relationship to performance.
- Don't hand it to them on a plate. Use tiered systems that separate based on skill and capacity to do what many people don't do enough to iGen kids...tell them truthfully where they are at with no B.S.
- Be watchful with team coaches you work with that they don't become the centre of the practice environment. They can't go on the field with the players, so your training designs must nurture the individual's ability to problem solve and lead, not to mention the teams capacity to work together.