the study of the kicking components within sports

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Born to Kick?

Was Jan Stenerud born to split the uprights? Was Morten Andersen born to amass a ton of points over a lengthy kicking career? Was Adam Vinatieri born to come through in the clutch in big games? Probably not.

Today we'll look at few excerpts from the writings of Dr. K. Anders Ericsson - widely recognized as a leading expert on experts. He earned a doctorate in Psychology from University of Stockholm, Sweden in 1976 and presently teaches at Florida State University. 

In the following excerpt from his excerpt, Ericsson touches on some of the basics of Expert Performance and Deliberate Practice:
Expertise refers to the mechanisms underlying the superior achievement of an expert, i.e. "one who has acquired special skill in or knowledge of a particular subjects through professional training and practical experience" (Webster's dictionary, 1976, p. 800). The term expert is used to describe highly experienced professionals such as medical doctors, accountants, teachers and scientists, but has been expanded to include any individual who attained their superior performance by instruction and extended practice: highly skilled performers in the arts, such as music, painting and writing, sports, such as swimming, running and golf and games, such as bridge and chess.
When experts exhibit their superior performance in public their behavior looks so effortless and natural that we are tempted to attribute it to special talents. Although a certain amount of knowledge and training seems necessary, the role of acquired skill for the highest levels of achievement has traditionally been minimized. However, when scientists began measuring the experts' supposedly superior powers of speed, memory and intelligence with psychometric tests, no general superiority was found --the demonstrated superiority was domain specific.

More generally, the accumulated amount of deliberate practice is closely related to the attained level of performance of many types of experts.
In The Making of an Expert, Ericsson and his coauthors elaborate on the essential role of practice, and more specifically, "deliberate" practice:
Back in 1985, Benjamin Bloom, a professor of education at the University of Chicago, published a landmark book, Developing Talent in Young People, which examined the critical factors that contribute to talent. He took a deep retrospective look at the childhoods of 120 elite performers who had won international competitions or awards in fields ranging from music and the arts to mathematics and neurology. Surprisingly, Bloom’s work found no early indicators that could have predicted the virtuosos’ success. Subsequent research indicating that there is no correlation between IQ and expert performance in fields such as chess, music, sports, and medicine has borne out his findings. The only innate differences that turn out to be significant — and they matter primarily in sports — are height and body size.

One thing emerges very clearly from Bloom’s work: All the superb performers he investigated had practiced intensively, had studied with devoted teachers, and had been supported enthusiastically by their families throughout their developing years. Later research building on Bloom’s pioneering study revealed that the amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise people achieved. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.

Not all practice makes perfect. You need a particular kind of practice—deliberate practice—to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.
Ericsson has explored a diverse range of expert types over the years. Although he did not specifically study football kickers, he did study golfers. That is of some relevance, because as the old saying goes - 'you can't swing a nine iron without hitting a kicker that likes to use the analogy between golf and kicking'.
To illustrate this point, let’s imagine you are learning to play golf for the first time. In the early phases, you try to understand the basic strokes and focus on avoiding gross mistakes (like driving the ball into another player). You practice on the putting green, hit balls at a driving range, and play rounds with others who are most likely novices like you. In a surprisingly short time (perhaps 50 hours), you will develop better control and your game will improve. From then on, you will work on your skills by driving and putting more balls and engaging in more games, until your strokes become automatic: You’ll think less about each shot and play more from intuition. Your golf game now is a social outing, in which you occasionally concentrate on your shot. From this point on, additional time on the course will not substantially improve your performance, which may remain at the same level for decades.

Why does this happen? You don’t improve because when you are playing a game, you get only a single chance to make a shot from any given location. You don’t get to figure out how you can correct mistakes. If you were allowed to take five to ten shots from the exact same location on the course, you would get more feedback on your technique and start to adjust your playing style to improve your control. In fact, professionals often take multiple shots from the same location when they train and when they check out a course before a tournament.
Deliberate practice has also been described as follows:
It is a very particular type of practice that is oriented towards advancing, not maintaining, performance on the task. If not, you will only plateau. Doing more of the same can’t make you better,” [coauthor Michael Prietula] continues. “When you reach that proverbial plateau, you have to do things differently. You have to analyze and study the task.” Ironically, sometimes deliberate practices initially result in performance loss, which is why amateurs are reluctant to pursue them. However, they are the stepping stones to gaining substantial improvement.

No comments:

Post a Comment