One of my all time favourite books is the Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. The book went AWOL in my house for a while and then appeared back in my bookshelf yesterday (my wife had been reading it!). It prompted me to take another look through and look specifically at the parts I had scribbled next to, underlined and highlighted. One of the sections discussed the importance of productive practice and coincidentally I had a great example of this very issue this morning.
One of my former clients that trained with me for a couple of years before moving away from the area was back for a few days and popped in to train. He had been working on his Olympic lifts and wanted me to cast my eye over his technique. He had a decent amount of load on the bar and proceeded to run through the snatch and clean and jerk. Now, anyone that has ever worked with me knows that I'm not a "Cheerleader" (I love that phrase - thanks Keir!) and I will tell you what you need to know rather than what you would like to hear. The client was hoping for affirmation that his lifts were good but the bottom line was they were not. They weren't terrible, but they weren't good. Whilst he was a bit miffed he understood the value of the coaching he was getting because unlike a lot of people that train, he understood the importance of productive practice.
So what is productive practice? Well, Daniel Coyle explains it nicely in his book, so over to Daniel!
..as I travelled to various talent hotbeds, I asked people for words that described the sensations of their most productive practice. Here's what they said:
This is a distinctive list. It evokes a feeling of reaching, falling short, and reaching again...deep practice is not simply about struggling; it's about seeking out a particular struggle, which involves a cycle of distinct actions. 1. Pick a target.
2. Reach for it.
3. Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach.
4. Return to step one.
(here is a list of words I didn't hear: natural, effortless, routine, automatic)
So the next time you are training or coaching make sure you are productive. There's no point just going through the motions, grunting the load up with crappy technique, working within your comfort zone, doing the things you like to do and ignoring the drills and techniques that will actually make you a better coach or athlete. Sure we should enjoy training but it shouldn't always be fluffy and sugar coated.
Danial Coyle notes that "judging by the facial expressions that he saw in the talent hotbeds, the sweet spot might better be named the bittersweet spot!" My client this morning certainly had that expression on his face, but like anyone who 'gets it', he's acquired a taste for it and understands that if he is to really improve he needs to have honest feedback. The session this morning was a great example of productive practice. He had his target, he reached for it, I made it very clear to him the gap between the target and his reach and we went back to step one.
That was a good session. I didn't slap him on the arse and shout "good job!" and wave my pom-poms around (I've not got pom-poms by the way, well not at the gym!).
I coached and he practiced - productively.