How Did A-Rod Get So Good?

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.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 68

View All Comments »
  1. geej says:

    how did he know the things he was “deliberately practicing” were the things that would make him very good?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. Andrew says:

    What does deliberate practice say about the playoffs?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. Davey says:

    The great ones work at it. I follow soccer and there’s a saying–”It takes a million touches [of the ball] to make a great player.” There’s a similar saying about writing, that “the first million words are just practice.”

    Larry Bird was said to stay after every game and practice free throws.

    As much as we would like to think there are naturals, in the end it comes down to putting in the effort.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. Malic says:

    This is very true. Natural talent / sheer time spent are usually the only factors considered, but the ability to efficiently improve yourself is undervalued. There are MANY ways to push a boulder without moving it at all, and it’s the same for your own ability.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Max says:

    hey #2, does it mean anything to you that a-rod did better in the post season last year than “mr clutch” (not that i believe in such a thing as a clutch player) Derek Jeter?

    I do know that super agent scot boras has had a-rod on special training and work out regimens. on top of whatever else he does.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. andrew says:

    A-Rod batting over .500 in spring! (8 games played, I know)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Spoiler says:

    The article specifically suggests that there is something qualitatively different about A-Rod. That someone else, practicing the same way wouldn’t get the results. Even that someone nearly as good shouldn’t attempt to practice the same way because A-Rod is special.

    Which is to say, the article only supports the expert performance movement’s ideas because of Dubner’s confirmation bias. (and his readers’)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. Sully says:

    The article specifically suggests that there is something qualitatively different about A-Rod. That someone else, practicing the same way wouldn’t get the results. Even that someone nearly as good shouldn’t attempt to practice the same way because A-Rod is special.

    Which is to say, the article only supports the expert performance movement’s ideas because of Dubner’s confirmation bias. (and his readers’)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0