I am not a fortune-teller. I do not recommend that athletes try to predict the future… play in the present, the rest takes care of itself. This being said, it seems like a good time to consider what’s next for the future of player development.
It has been 20 years since Anders Ericsson’s paper The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. It has been 5 years since Malcom Gladwell pushed Ericsson’s work into the public consciousness. National governing bodies now truly understand and embrace science such as Ericsson’s and other foundational player development examinations (USA Hockey’s commitment to ADM is a good example). As the calendar is about to turn to a new year it is valuable to consider, “What’s next?” in the sciences for sports to embrace.
This is not a call to abandon Ericsson’s work. It is spot on, well thought out, and I suspect foundational for generations of athletes to come. A great primer on this research that digs deeper than the typical shelves at Barnes and Noble but does not knock you unconscious like primary research articles can is Ericsson’s The Road to Excellence. Deliberate practice is a core concept to player development, perhaps the “next” of this research for coaches and organizations to dig their teeth into is the role of rest and recovery. The research shows that practice matters and rest is necessary. I think exercise physiology has done a nice job at considering this in the past decade. “Active rest” has been a hot topic for a while in sport science circles. Mental and emotional rest has been lagging a bit in its execution however (Matt took this idea on in a recent post). Taking time to fully grasp rest and recovery from a body and mind standpoint is going to develop better athletes.
This being said, it has been 20 years since deliberate practice clearly hit the stage. Beyond a call for continued building and understanding of excellence and expertise science, I have thoughts for from where we may see increasing player development applications for the future. This past decade has had research from the fields of cognitive science from which sports should take note. Cognitive science is not about F-MRI machines or neurofeedback, but rather rich insights into decision making, attention, learning, and social forces that shape them. A nice book to consider adding to your reading list that opens up some of these ideas is Effortless Attention, edited by Bruya. It is a read that takes time and diligence, but it holds rich implications for coaching and creating better competitors.
Here are a few previews of ideas in this text that I believe understanding will lead to the new levels of player development. These notes only scratch the surface, so please dig in and dig deeper:
- Attentional and emotional control as limited resources. Schmeichel and Baumeister take a thorough look at this concept in chapter 1. Every athlete needs them. Every coach preaches about them. How can we nourish them, maximize them, and help them to sustain from the beginning to the end of an athletic contest?
- What is the most effective way to cue optimal motor performances and to teach motor skills? In the third chapter Wulf and Lewthwaite present research that can make coaches better teachers. Also I believe there are important implications for the self-talk that ought to be encouraged in athletes (tennis pros, keep an eye out for the July/August 2013 TennisPro magazine where Matt and I share some thoughts on how this science can thrive on the lesson court).
- Flow has been preached and espoused so much over the past decades of sport, I have to wonder if the concept’s potential benefit to athletic development has been watered down and in many instances lost. A conscientious read of the flow induction literature really gets one considering when flow should be chased, when its absence should be simply accepted, and much more. Chapter 9 by Moller, Meier, and Wall gets you to both the roots and the future of flow science.
- A somewhat different chapter that I believe holds interesting athletic applications is Bruya’s chapter, number 11. Apertures of attention is a relatively philosophical idea, but highlights the power of the salience of mental images and that attention is not one of focus, but rather of foci. Considering it a bit gives greater depth to the reality that goal orientations are non-orthagonal and thoughts into the best ways to handle this reality (yes, an athlete can hold an outcome orientation… just how big is this mental aperture).
- Seemingly unrelated to athletic player development is chapter 12, Slingerland’s Toward an Empirically Responsible Ethics. I think this may be more related to athletic performance than suspected. Moral decisions are a blend between emotional responses and cognitive reflections. How these two things are balanced depends on the stress level of the situation. Sport is a place where decisions must be made under under heightened emotion, yet can be reflected upon later in the film room where the cooler heads reign. The transfer from moral decision making to athletic decision making will not be a perfectly seamless one, but one to consider nonetheless.
Player development is both filled with norms passed down from one generation to the next and evidence-based practice that treats athletes like finely tuned instruments. The past decade and a half has done a good job embracing the science… as always, there are next steps. The above notes are some thoughts about powerful research and thinking that may drive things forward. Maybe we will see them more often on the shelves of the local bookstore and in the gyms around our neighborhoods… perhaps something else is “next.” Either way, I am excited to see “what’s next.”