As I usually do, I spent large chunks of last night considering and breakdown the physiology, movement, mechanics and strategy of each of the players. I can’t help it and I love doing it. What was immediately noticeable was the relaxed nature they both presented in last night. They certainly were not intense, they warmed up casually with Lleyton involving his son Cruz in the warm up. They joked with the crowd, the umpire and each other throughout the match.
Despite this ambience of joviality and mutual respect between two champions you could see very clearly if you were paying attention the slightest changes in their face and eyes less than a second before the start of each point. They would segue seamlessly from a joke with a member of the crowd into a strict routine. This routine was either their service or return routine. The same routine that they would have done a million times before and just as they began that routine, their eyes glazed and a steely concentration came across their faces. You see, even in a light-hearted environment the power of their training and those thousands of hours of deliberate practice could not be ignored. In fact, if this routine was then interrupted by a quip from the crowd or a noise or their own mind was not quite ready, they would pause and start the routine again. I could only imagine the level of intensity at which this would go to in a Grand Slam Final.
So what is deliberate practice? It is simply how you get good at anything. The difference between practice and deliberate practice is that it has a purpose. It has a plan. It has a structure. Quite simply, it gets you good, faster. That is not to say that you can become an expert at a particular skill overnight but every time you are undertaking deliberate practice, you are getting better. If you undertake this deliberate practice over thousands of hours and numerous years you will slowly master that skill. So why are the rest of us not as good as Federer and Hewitt? The most obvious and clear reason according to skill acquisition experts is deliberate practice. There are aspects to their performance which are not easily practiced but the aspects that are, they have mastered. Take a serve for example. You can practice your serve by simply serving and that is good practice but if you practice by serving a particular serve i.e. a slice serve and aim to place that serve on the centre T line, that is a more deliberate practice.
The message here and the message I have for my clients is that if you want to be strong, fit or simply technically proficient in the gym, it starts with deliberate practice. Not just practice. Tracey Wickham, the great Australian swimmer once told me at a training camp as a child that “practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” That is what deliberate practice is. I have had it reinforced to me by every coach, every good article, coaching resource and mentor I have ever had in my sporting career. The one message that they all share is that you should never undertake a training session without a plan. Start the session knowing exactly why you are doing it and what you want to achieve and then complete the session. By doing this you are performing deliberate practice and you are on your way to becoming an expert. The rest is just time.