Is your sport skill automatic?
Most athletes ultimately want their skills to be automatic. Most sports require quick reactions and fast decision making so having your skill set being automatic is good thing.
But should we always be automatic or on auto-pilot when practicing our skills?
Geoff Colvin writes about in his book “Talent is Overrated ...” that once a skill is performed automatically you essentially cease improvement in that skill.
He uses the example of learning to
drive a car. Initially, there is a very steep learning curve as you
learn to operate the car and the rules of the road. But
once you get your drivers license, improvement pretty much stops and
will likely decline over time.
“Avoiding automaticity through continual practice is another way of saying that great performers are always getting better. This is why the most devoted can stay at the top of their field for far longer than most people would think possible”
Colvin Geoff. Talent is Overrated: what really separates the world class performers from everybody else. Penguin Books Ltd, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-59184-294-1 (p. 83)
My take on this is that even though your sport skill should be automatic to some degree during competition (depends on the sport; e.g. Golf vs Basketball), to truly get better you need to do lots of deliberate practice which is avoiding being automatic altogether. I think of being automatic in practice as just going through the motions, it a very mindless endeavor.
de·lib·er·ate(d-lbr-t)adj.1. Done with or marked by full consciousness of the nature and effects; intentional: mistook the oversight for a deliberate insult.2. Arising from or marked by careful consideration: a deliberate decision. See Synonyms at voluntary.
To consciously think of exactly where you place your foot, hand and how you handle the ball or racket while utilizing a very high degree of precision and quality at all times is how the best become even better.
It's also not easy or even close to being pleasant which is why most people are not top performers in their field or sport.
There is only one Michael Jordan, one Wayne Gretzky and one Tiger Woods for a good reason.
Of course there are other factors at play other then just deliberate practice but this certainly seems to be a common thread among great performers.
The next time you are practicing whether it be on the court or in the pool ask yourself; am I mindlessly going through the motions or am I being mindful of exactly what I am doing.
Deliberately practicing with a very high degree of quality also usually requires the assistance of a coach which is also another common theme of great performers. They all have coaches or mentors to assist them in their quest for perfection in their field. Of course perfection can never be reached because once you think you have gained perfection you will stop getting better.
Enjoy and Be Well,
Michael Reid, B.HE. CSCS, RKC