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Efficient Practice -- Beyond just being good

On the soccer field (and in classroom for that matter) you can work hard and do a thousand different drills without getting very far. Hard work is definitely a prerequisite but it simply isn’t enough. We often overrate hard work in evaluating the effectiveness of any practice or training.

Training and development that is merely ‘good’ is not enough to make players or teams significantly better than anyone else. Even a higher quantity of ‘good’ practice won’t set you apart. To be significantly better you need to be considerably more productive in every minute of your training.

The Matrix Way is not about being good, it’s about being great. Fortunately, great is not all that far from good. Even the smallest changes can increase the rate at which you develop by a staggering margin.

The common phrase is “practice makes perfect” but it would be more accurate to state practice makes permanent. In practice you can master a skill thoroughly, but what you practice can be correct or it can be wrong. Either way, what you do is likely to be encoded – instilled in muscle memory and made into habit – for better or worse.

Unfortunately, at Matrix we often see this in action with older players who come to us with thoroughly developed or encoded poor habits. It’s far more difficult to relearn or overcome poor habits than it is to engrain them for the first time.

I have a personal story that is a perfect example of this…

Out of college I became a Federal Officer in Washington, DC. As part of my training we were trained in various firearms at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia as well as the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. On my first day I told the training officer that I had never fired a gun in my life. I was completely surprised by his reaction. He said to me, “Oh thank God.” I looked at him in wonderment. He went on to tell me that I was so much better off coming in fresh with no bad habits to overcome. I was one of only two training candidates to qualify as an Expert marksman.

Practice all the wrong moves and your team will execute the wrong moves when it comes time to perform. Practice without intentionality and you will perform without much intention. A critical aspect of practice should be ensuring that it is encoded right – whatever “it” may be.

While this may appear obvious practice that encodes failure is quite common. There are three primary reasons for this. First, we can fail to observe our practices carefully enough to see whether players are getting it right, or second, we can put them in situations that make failure likely in an effort to steepen the learning curve, and third, we can fail to acknowledge the mistakes players are making consistently enough.

One common problem and contributing factor to this failure is a drill’s design. Often drills are made difficult for players and coaches to determine whether success is happening – to check for mastery. If a coach actually knows what they are looking for in a drill – and believe me, many times this is a stretch – it has to be simplistic enough to determine if mastery is taking place. For example, if you are looking for five different activities all at once, and at multiple players at the same time, then that is likely too much information to process with the kind of focus that checking for mastery requires.

There is also a tendency of coaches to increase the difficulty of a drill to both steepen the learning curve and prove their knowledge and worth. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham observes in his book, Why Don’t Students Like School?, that we learn fastest when we problem solve in small increments – when problems are challenging but not out of reach. If the task accelerates too quickly subsequent learning slows down and can even halt. Furthermore, he found that people like solving problems when they are introduced in incrementally more complex ways. How this translates is that kids are actually happy when they are learning. But only when they are learning well.

It is important to consider that the success rate still isn’t one hundred percent – being great means by definition that the majority will not be able to comply. However, we have done this long enough to understand what levels of mastery must be achieved prior to increasing the complexity associated with consistent progression and success.

At Matrix we have engineered practice activities with a reliable rate of attainment. Many of you have likely already noticed that some players are graduating to small-sided games while others have been left to master the Basic 4 and Basic 5. Don’t be concerned if your child is one of those so-called left behind. Matrix is a progression and many students will experience long periods of plateau before making incremental moves forward. Experience tells us that these periods of deliberate practice focused on mastering the fundamentals of the system will pay huge dividends in the end. So, don’t despair.

Our focus is on directing players to the fastest possible correct version of the Basic’s – the five moves and turns, and the 3, 4, 5 and 6 drill progressions. Once these can be demonstrated to an acceptable level we can progress to a more dynamic scenario that includes small-sided games. These games provide players/students with accelerated versions of the real game.

The small-sided games are offered through a process of tactical periodization. We never abandon our work on the moves and turns, and continuously introduce new and more challenging dynamic drill scenarios. This is the crux of what Matrix is all about.

[if !supportLists]1. [endif]Repetition of the fundamentals to imbed them and make habitual.

[if !supportLists]2. [endif]Continuously challenge players both mentally and physically through deliberate practice.

[if !supportLists]3. [endif]Enhance leadership abilities through peer-led design.

[if !supportLists]4. [endif]Provide a progressive curriculum that is both incremental and strategic.

[if !supportLists]5. [endif]Replicate real game scenarios and train at game speed.

Hard work, efficient design and deliberate practice define the Matrix approach to developing the next age of ultimate footballers.


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