You’ve probably heard about the 10,000 hour rule which suggests it takes that long to become an expert performer. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, is a book totally about skill development, one which actually debunks the 10,000 hour thing. It does, though, drive home the importance of getting lots of practice. It relates closely to The Talent Code in that regard. More than that, it focuses on the importance of deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice

What is deliberate practice? You’ll find out in the book. It has a pretty specific definition. It’s something we coaches need to understand and encourage. Here’s a quote I pulled that does a good job explaining it.

“In short, deliberate practice is characterized by the following traits: Deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established. The practice regimen should be designed and overseen by a teacher or coach who is familiar with the abilities of expert performers and with how those abilities can best be developed. Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities. Thus it demands near-maximal effort, which is generally not enjoyable. Deliberate practice involves well-defined, specific goals and often involves improving some aspect of the target performance; it is not aimed at some vague overall improvement. Once an overall goal has been set, a teacher or coach will develop a plan for making a series of small changes that will”

Mental representations

Another important concept the book presents is that of mental representations. This links directly in with deliberate practice. Think of it as the model one has in their head of what they’re trying to accomplish.

“Much of deliberate practice involves developing ever more efficient mental representations that you can use in whatever activity you are practicing. When Steve Faloon was training to improve his ability to remember long strings of digits, he developed increasingly sophisticated ways to encode those digits mentally—that is, he created mental representations. When London taxi trainees are learning to navigate efficiently from every point A to every point B in the city, they do it by developing increasingly sophisticated mental maps of the city—that is, by making mental representations.”

Other stuff

There’s a lot of potentially useful material here. I pulled out a whole bunch of quotes while I was reading. Here are some of them.

“This explains a crucial fact about expert performance in general: there is no such thing as developing a general skill. You don’t train your memory; you train your memory for strings of digits or for collections of words or for people’s faces. You don’t train to become an athlete; you train to become a gymnast or a sprinter or a marathoner or a swimmer or a basketball player.”

This speaks directly to the concept of specificity of training.

“These representations enable them to quickly recognize what sort of pitch is coming and where it will likely be when it reaches them. As soon as they see the pitcher’s arm come around and the ball leave his hand, they have a very good idea—without having to do any sort of conscious calculations—whether it will be a fastball, slider, or curve and approximately where it’s heading. In essence, they’ve learned to read the pitcher’s delivery, so they have less need to actually see how the ball travels before determining whether and where to swing the bat. The rest of us, who are illiterate where pitching is concerned, simply can’t make these decisions before the ball arrives in the catcher’s mitt.”

Can you see how this relates to serve reception?

“Research on expert diagnosticians has found that they tend to see symptoms and other relevant data not as isolated bits of information but as pieces of larger patterns—in much the same way that grandmasters see patterns among chess pieces rather than a random assortment of pieces.”

This is something I talk about at times with respect to one developing their coaching “vision”. As you become more experienced you better see the full picture of what’s happening, not just the final contact.

I pulled out a whole bunch more, but I won’t bury you in them. Suffice it to say there’s a bunch of good stuff.

Final thoughts

My grumble about the book is with respect to readability. There are some long stories related to different concepts, which I think could have been more to the point. I have no problem with the use of stories. In fact, they generally help. In this case, though, my personally feeling is they ran long and could have been more to the point. And carrying on from that, the chapters are quite long, which can make it hard for those who tend to read in smaller chunks.

Readability issues aside, I think the material in Peak is very useful and thought-provoking. It should be merged with motor learning science concepts, though.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Volleyball Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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