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The Talent Code: Deep Practice Rule #1

Implement Part Practice and Master Your Skill

Yesterday, I introduced Daniel Coyle’s groundbreaking book The Talent Code You can read that post here

“The book that explains how talent grows in the brain, and how you can grow more of it”

I am particularly excited about the findings of this book because it gives a clear road map as to how we can improve our approach as coaches to help players see more marked improvement. One of the first and most important elements is the idea of deep practice, which I touched on yesterday.

In case you missed it, or to help further understand it, here is another explanation that Coyle provides:

“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.”

One of the crucial pieces of this cycle is to pick a target that forces you to operate on the edge of your ability, or a target that forces your athletes to operate on the edge of their ability.

I told you yesterday that I was going to go over the 3 rules of deep practice that Coyle identifies, which means today is focused on rule one.

Rule #1: Chunk it up

In this all-important portion of the book Coyle refers to “chunking” which is basically breaking down any skill into its individual pieces, and perfecting those individual pieces.

This is exactly what we do when teaching the proper fielding position with the Triangle Drill, or guiding a player through proper swing or pitching mechanics. We have always referred to it as part practice.

Try breaking these complicated moves down into their individual parts and teach players to master one piece at a time.

The goal should be for the athlete to be able to perform each one of the individual portions with absolute precision. In doing so perfect technique is built because the perfect neurological circuits are built…and the foundation of perfect technique is crucial to long-term success.

“The goal is always the same: break the skill into its component pieces (circuits), memorize those pieces individually, then link them together in progressively larger groupings (new, interconnected circuits).”Daniel Coyle

Not only do we want to absolutely perfect each of the individual parts, but we also want to link them together. Have your athletes learn the individual pieces and also work to blend them together. Start extremely slow, having them hold and feel each position individually (new, individual circuits).

Then link them together in a progression in which they still hold and feel each position for a solid 2 seconds. As they continue to get more in tune with each individual position smooth out the progression. Have them move from position A to position B to position C a little quicker. Eventually, getting to a point where it is one smooth fluid motion (new, interconnected circuits).

Additional Teaching Tricks:

Another method you can use within this Part Practice model is mixing up the order of the positions. Have an athlete stand with a bat at his feet and tell him you are going to call out a position and they need to go directly to it. This can help create a deeper connection to that individual position.

“At Meadowmount (elite musical school and talent hotbed) Students scissor each measure of their sheet music into horizontal strips, which are stuffed into envelops and pulled out in random order.”Daniel Coyle

Additionally, once the athletes have learned all of the positions in the progression you can have them work forward and backwards through it. This again forces them to really evaluate where their body is in space (kinesthetic awareness). Having to do the progression backwards helps heighten this awareness and forces athletes to really think through the moves.

You might be thinking: that’s all good and well, but I don’t know what the most important pieces of the key fundamental movements in baseball are!

What are the component parts of the correct fielding position?

What are the component parts of a major league swing?

What are the component parts of an effective pitching motion?

Lucky for you we have laid some versions of all of those out; click the links below to see some different progressions you can use to implement this part practice.

Breaking into its pieces is a very valuable teaching technique, but there is another element to this idea of “Chunking it up.” Coyle also identifies an important element of “Absorbing the whole thing.”

“This means spending time starting at or listening to the desired skill—the song, the move, the swing—as a single coherent entity. People in the hotbeds stare and listen in this way quite a lot. It sounds rather Zen, but it basically amounts to absorbing a picture of the skill until you can imagine yourself doing it.”Daniel Coyle

How to apply it to your athletes:
We actually have something called mirror neurons, which are neurons that fire both when you perform the skill and when you observe the skill being performed by another. Basically they help us to imitate. This is why watching baseball, absorbing the way the best in the world do it actually helps athletes develop the skill in themselves.

So here is the process as it pertains to baseball:

  • 1. Pick the skill set to focus on: ie. fielding position, a baseball swing
  • 2. Observe & absorb the skill/movement as a whole (this can be constant)
  • 3. Determine what the component pieces of that skill are (especially what the most important pieces are)
  • 4. Break it down into its component pieces
  • 5. Master those component pieces individually
  • 6. Blend the individual pieces together into progressively larger pieces
  • 7. Put it all together into one smooth fluid movement
  • 8. Evaluate, refine, repeat. Evaluate, refine, repeat….

Can’t wait to touch base with you tomorrow about rule #2 and how you can apply it to your baseball practice.