When Anders Ericsson and his colleagues in the “expert performance” movement — we’ve written about them before, and we’ll write about them again — try to explain what it is that makes someone very good at what he or she does, they focus on “deliberate practice.” This means that, your level of natural talent notwithstanding, excellence is accomplished mainly through the tenets of deliberate practice, which are roughly:
1. Focus on technique as opposed to outcome.
2. Set specific goals.
3. Get good, prompt feedback, and use it.
This Times article by Tyler Kepner describes how Bobby Meacham, the Yankees’ new third-base coach, recalls seeing a young Alex Rodriguez approach the game. At the time, Meacham was a minor league manager whose team was hosting A-Rod’s minor league team:
“I said, ‘This guy goes about his business not like he wants to get to the big leagues, but like he wants to be the best,'” Meacham said.
“He knows he’s going to be good, but he wants to be great. There was just a method to it.”
In fielding practice, Meacham remembered, Rodriguez would ask for grounders to his right and to his left, and he would ask for fielders at second for a double play and at first for throws across the diamond. In batting practice, he would focus on specific disciplines — grounders the other way, liners to the gaps, and so on.
“At 18 or 19 years old, he already had a plan,” Meacham said. “It was pretty awesome to watch.”
If you ever forget what Ericsson and his crew are talking about when they talk about “deliberate practice,” just remember A-Rod. This isn’t to say that A-Rod wasn’t born with great athletic skills; but so was, e.g., Ryan Leaf.