Great Athletes Use a Special “Type” of Training - Part II

In Part I of our discussion, I left off with all the athletes agreeing that they had performed at least some of their skill set during that prior week’s practice, at its highest level, but had left you hanging a little regarding the more important question. That question:

“Ok…good, now how many of you made sure that you did not leave practice until you accomplished repeating that high level of skill execution at least 10 times?”

Only one player raised his hand, and based on his tentativeness, I silently questioned whether he really had performed as he indicated.

Taken back by this a little, I decided to leave my third question off the table. That question:

“And how many of you applied that same principle (this idea of working toward mastery—‘perfection’) to all of your skill-set—those things you need to be successful at the game?”

Heck, I already knew the answer.

And herein lies a problem, one experienced by many (maybe most), one that holds athletes back from actually being able to reach their full potential. Commonly referred to in some books as “deep practice,” in others as “deliberate practice,” and in Becoming a True Champion “feel”-type training, it is a training strategy few truly understand…let alone commit themselves to.

Even though the three sets of quoted terms above may have differences in explanation, essentially they refer to practicing with a very, very high level of focus…or training with specific intention. And not just once and a while, nor on only parts of one’s skill set, but every day on all pieces of one’s skill set.

I know some athletes reading this might think, “well, yea…isn’t that what we do all the time?”

Based on what I have seen, even from some high level, national caliber athletes…no, it is not.

For the most part, many (maybe most) go through the motions at practice. It goes something like this:

Athlete:     “How many free throws do each of us need to make coach?”

Coach:        “30 from everyone before we move on.”

And off they go to shoot and make their 30.

However, they shoot until they make those 30 without real intent, without deliberate focus, without “feeling” the movement to the point of trying to perfect that movement, thus, helping to make their shot consistently repeatable.

Basically, they go through the motions until they make those 30 baskets the coach asked them to make…and move on. There is minimal real focus applied, minimal real intent to learn and perform that skill so the movement taking place becomes much more natural—instinctive if I might.

I have seen this so many times I’m not sure I can accurately express how often it happens…but I will try. Let me just say…in my career as an athlete, as a coach, even as a parent of athletes, I can count on one hand the number of athletes who I felt used that deep, deliberate, “feel”-type training I am discussing here.


Because it’s hard, is time consuming, and takes a specific, very high level of focus and deliberate planning to accomplish. One has to hold themselves to a much higher standard of excellence; they must set smaller mini-goals in many areas of their skill set (on a daily basis) that they have to accomplish before practice is complete.

They have to be willing to look at the positives AND negatives of “their” game, be ready to break things down into their fundamental parts and work hard at improving them. They must be committed to mastering the skills of the game, working toward perfecting them, as well as challenging themselves (and their skills), improving on their skill set, every single day.

They don’t just perform their skills…they feel the proper execution as movements simply become part of them. No different than how most don’t have to think about how to walk…they just walk. It has been done correctly so often there is no need to have to think about how, it just happens naturally.

There is much, much more to this type of training than what I have been able to lay out here. A detailed and explicit explanation, along with examples, would take up several book chapters in length in order to do this type of training real justice.

With that in mind, I would like to suggest several books I believe do a pretty good job (each from slightly different viewpoints) of detailing what deep, deliberate, “feel”-type training is all about. I am only intimately familiar with one of them, but have read enough excerpts, seen video snippets, researched author perspectives, and talked with a reader of one of the books, to know their take on this type of training. They include, Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, Geoff Colvin’s Talent is Overrated, Matthew Syed’s Bounce, and my book Becoming a True Champion.

I believe that all of these books in some way, shape or form discuss a deeper, more deliberate type of practice. I know I went to great pains to thoroughly cover my “feel”-type training principle and the benefits it had for me as an athlete.

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Tags: Athlete, Sports, Training

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