Jim Stone, who I interviewed for Volleyball Coaching Wizards, authored a post for the JVA blog on the subject of deliberate practice. I wrote about this topic in different ways here and here, which both tie back to this post. Jim also has a good explanation in his piece. As a result, I won’t delve into the subject much here.
What I do want to do, though, is focus on one aspect of things that Jim mentioned. Among his keys to deliberate practice is the following:
Give full attention and conscious action, no activities where the player can go on “autopilot.”
Players on autopilot is something I saw that drove me crazy when I was in Italy in 2019. Juniors team coaches had players doing extremely simple exercises that you could tell the players were going through mechanically. There was no challenge, no need for much in the way of conscious action. It most definitely wasn’t deliberate practice!
I’d actually worked with a high school JV coach a couple months earlier at a College of Charleston team camp. As part of her initial practice phase she had the players doing stuff where they were passing while on one knee and some stuff like that. She gave me the impression it was a standard routine. As with many such standard routines, the players were basically going through the motions. The focus of the on-one-knee thing was for the players to develop platform control. As I pointed out to her, though, it was pretty clear they were demonstrating that. As a result, they needed more of a challenge.
And that’s our job as coaches. As soon as we see the players getting to be comfortable with their skill, it’s time to push them. Make them uncomfortable again. That’s part of the REPS concept.
Of course, this leads to the question of How do we make them uncomfortable?