Why you MUST practice deliberately

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It’s you versus yourself out there. This is how you create the best conditions for growth.

Written by Nick HumphriesUpdated over a week ago

Ever felt like Kyle above?

Its training time and you should feel pumped up, ready to get your reps in and ready to CONQUER THE WORLD! 🌎🌍🌏

But you’re not feeling it..

Every touch, every shot, every pass feels forced. It feels like you’re just counting down the minutes until the end.  

Trust me, I’ve been in your boots before. 

I’ve spent 1000s of hours training alone. It could be at 5:30am when the world is just waking up, the air is fresh, the sun rising just behind the mountains…

Yes, you’re here! 

You’ve done the hard part to roll out of that warm bed, get your gear on and slip into your slightly cold, wet cleats. You’ve rolled the balls out, the cones are setup and now its just for you to GO! 

But every set starts feeling like you’re just going through the motions. 

And slowly, it gets harder to wake up early and get out there. You start yawning like Kyle up there.

Come Winter time, you feel like there’s definitely no way you’re getting out there. 

You started telling yourself it wasn’t worth it, there’s better things to do than to go rep-after-rep-after-rep. 

Look – If you don’t change things up, you will never reach your full potential! 

So you gotta change the conditions and apply the VERY IMPORTANT concept of deliberate practice.

What is the concept of deliberate practice? 

Image above from: The Beginners Guide to Deliberate Practice


Deliberate practice
 refers to a special type of practice that is purposeful and systematic. 

While regular practice might include mindless repetitions, deliberate practice requires focused attention and is conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.

As James Clear talked about in his article here:

“The greatest challenge of deliberate practice is to remain focused. In the beginning, showing up and putting in your reps is the most important thing. But after a while we begin to carelessly overlook small errors and miss daily opportunities for improvement.

This is because the natural tendency of the human brain is to transform repeated behaviors into automatic habits. For example, when you first learned to tie your shoes you had to think carefully about each step of the process. Today, after many repetitions, your brain can perform this sequence automatically. The more we repeat a task the more mindless it becomes.

Mindless activity is the enemy of deliberate practice. The danger of practicing the same thing again and again is that progress becomes assumed. Too often, we assume we are getting better simply because we are gaining experience. In reality, we are merely reinforcing our current habits — not improving them.”

What is the science behind deliberate practice? 

Every time you do deliberate practice, you grow a special type of brain tissue called myelin, and it plays a key role in helping us acquire and master skills.

Myelin is a protective layer that insulates nerve fibers in your body and determines how fast and accurately electrons can go from one neuron to the next and therefore how good you are at performing the corresponding skill. 

Put simply, the more layers of myelin you acquire, the better you get. 

To fully grasp the idea of myelin, you need to do a bit more reading. The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle is one of the best books out there on developing your talent (read the second chapter for the part about myelin).

So how do you practice deliberately?

Deliberate practice always follows the same pattern: break the overall process down into parts, identify your weaknesses, test new strategies for each section, and then integrate your learning into the overall process.

If you want a more specific breakdown of how that works for a sport like football, lets break it down: 

The 5 steps to practice deliberately 

Step 1) Start with the basics

You need to ensure that you’re not just grabbing random videos you find on Youtube. For long-term development and success, you need planning and structure. 

Does that word “planning” sound boring? At first glance, maybe a little.. but trust me.. its damn FUN when you actually see the results of your planning. 

So make sure you’ve got these things checked off before and after you do your training: 

  • Do I have my specific goals set?Does my workout relate with my immediate 1 – 12 month goal?

    For example, your 12-month goal is to become the top scorer in your team, so is working on your freestyle tricks the most effective work you can do OR is it more effective to work on the power and accuracy with that weak foot of yours?
  • Am I reflecting during and after my training?
    Name two things you did well and one thing you could improve.For example, my weak foot is getting more powerful and so is my speed with the ball but, I need to improve the accuracy with my shooting. Next time I’m really going to shoot low and hard confidently in the corners. 

 Step 2) Set specific targets during training 

The whole concept of deliberate practice is to make sure you do practice that challenges you. 

There are a couple of ways you can implement targets in your training:

  • Successful reps out of x
    Set a number to aim for out of the total number or reps in an exercise.
    This is particularly useful for shooting exercises or passing exercises where you have a target to aim for.

    For example, you want to complete 15/30 attempts of the Air Control exercise successfully (meaning a good touch and a clean strike into the goal).
  • Number of reps in a row
    Count how many reps you can do successfully in a row.

    Really good for juggling, advanced juggling (shoulders, headers, thighs, inside/outside of foot) and wall passing type exercises.

    For example, you want to aim getting 10 juggles in a row with the inside of your right foot.

    Or, you want to do 10 passes in a row successfully of Two-Bounce Self Service
  • For time
    Time how long it takes you to complete a rep or set of an exercise.Great for dribbling exercises, speed and stamina exercises.

    For example, the aim that you’ll do one rep of the Rapid Dribble exercise in under 30 seconds.

    Note: easier to time this with a wrist watch! (yes I know, we’ll be working on an app for smartwatches in the future)

Step 3) Set a punishment or reward for success/failure! 

Have you had that urge to play an hour of your favourite video game? Okay, IF you get your training target today, you’re allowed to play. 

Or.. do you perform better when you give yourself a time to beat or a target to snatch? Well, IF you fail your target, then there are 5 sets of explosive suicides waiting for you at the end of training! 

If you want to develop myelin quicker – put yourself in situations where you need to make the same shot, dribble, touch or pass in a pressure situation

Let me say that again: PRESSURE SITUATION

An example of mine.. 

I pretended Jose Mourinho was watching me and I’d try to get x number of shots or passes or dribbles. If I failed then I would make myself stay outside in the cold for longer. My punishment is that I had to repeat 30 minutes of the same training again.

However, if I got the target number then I imagined JM was going to sign me when I was back in the living room! Silly I know, but it made things more enjoyable and added a sense of real pressure.

Many of these “fake-pressure” situations I practiced in training paid off in game situations.. and yes! WHAT A FEELING it is when you practice something and you actually apply it in match. 

Lebron James does the same thing. 

Step 4) Do it with “star form” 

When you’re exercising and implementing targets, use these rules as a guideline for a successful repetition: 

  • Speed:  Complete at a speed which challenges you. Not too slow, but not so fast that you can’t manage a consistent pace throughout a set.
  • Form: Keeping proper form that closely mimics the technique displayed in the video of the exercise.
  • Control: No mis-control, missteps or loss of control. 

At Train Effective, we like to call this “Star Form” ! Ultimately, star form is a way for you to challenge yourself all the time!

Step 5) Don’t stop until you reach your goal 

Many of you know I talk a ton about the 10,000 hour rule. 

The 10,000 hour rule states that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field.

The 10,000 number originates from the work of Anders Ericsson. Ericsson did research at a music academy and found that the elite group of musicians had already clocked about 10,000 hours of practice by the time they reached 20.

The same findings were found for Brazilian footballers, The Beatles and even Chess grandmasters. 

Now, the 10,000 hour rule is debatable. Many debate on how many hours it actually takes and specifically, how many of those hours need to be “deliberate”. 

Like if you just tried to hit the crossbar from 16-yards out for 10,000 hours, you’d get really really good at the crossbar challenge and long-balls, but you probably wouldn’t have all the other attributes needed to become a world-class player. 

BUT, what everybody can agree on is that it takes lots of work to reach your full potential in sports and in life. 

Rather than focus on

 “I want to become a professional footballer

focus firstly on..

 “I want to achieve 25/30 on the Air Control exercise so that my first touch is as good as a professionals.

It might take you 3-months to achieve that goal but, when the pursuit of growth takes a lifetime of work and has a lot of emotional ups and downs.. its a very good idea to do so otherwise you’ll be discouraged!

How-to achieve 10,000 hours in 5,000. 

If most people (that’s the people that don’t have Train Effective) are like your typical “non-academy,  train sometimes on their own but mostly play with friends type” – chances are they are developing with 10-50% of maximum effectiveness. 

Our name is “Train Effective” because we want to show you the most effective techniques, tools, tips, tricks to reach your full potential, in the least amount of time. 

Our tip for maximum effectiveness is – Make it FUN for yourself!

Our workouts are designed to be a challenge. Many are simple and just require lots of repetition to get right. You should repeat over and over again until you’ve perfected the workout but, to do that will require you to make it a challenge!

To re-cap, do these things to practice deliberately:

Step 1) Start with the basics: goals, content and reflection

Step 2) Set specific targets during training

Step 3) Set a punishment or reward for success/failure! 

Step 4) Train with “star form” 

Step 5) Don’t stop until you reach your goal 


Now.. I can’t wait to see your progress on Effective!! 

Keep hustling.
Stay Effective! 


P.S. Here’s are some more videos and articles to stay motivated during training. 

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