Posts Tagged 'sports performance'

Skill + Time = Results

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

It’s quite obvious that player development is based on building skill over time. The more an individual works at something, the more skills are developed. As skills are passionately pursued throughout a significant timeframe, expert performance appears.  Yet, it can be difficult to maintain this perspective on a daily basis – especially around tournament time. As competition nears, other ideas seem to bubble to the surface:

How many points is this tournament worth?   Who is in the field?  What’s the winning score going to be?

Although these thoughts are exciting to consider, they also tend to become a distraction to performance. The more distractions that arise against the player development mindset, the less attention an individual has to focus on the task at hand; and distracted is not a mindset which is synonymous with success.

Throughout training:IMG_20141007_085300583

Golfers don’t practice making birdies, they practice making smooth swings.

Golfers don’t practice shooting 4-under par, they practice staying target focused.

Golfers don’t practice getting recruited by a college or turning pro, they practice patience.

If distracting ideas start taking over (make birdie, shoot 4-under, get recruited) especially around tournament time, unreliable results are likely to follow. Discussions based on short-sighted results breed a mindset linked to distracted performance, frustration, lackluster effort and potential  burnout.

Parents, coaches and athletes who reinforce a player development mindset (Skill + Time = Results) seek long-term growth and build healthy competitors as a result. These individuals see competition as an opportunity to exhibit skills (smooth swings, target focus and patience) and test personal limits. When skills continue to remain a top priority throughout training and competition, consistent results unfold. As individuals consistently take part in dialogue filled with themes of player development, birdies happen, scores drop and barriers continue to be broken.

This post was originally created for & can also be found at


Redefining Perfection

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Many performers seek perfection. Meticulous details are precisely lined up in anticipation of achieving desired results over and over again. When going well, this approach seems to flow in harmony as efforts are immediately and repeatedly rewarded. As results begin diverging from the crystal clear image of perfect execution, however, frustration and anxiety take a front seat. Execution of the task starts looking and feeling more like a runaway, emotional rollercoaster as the now-strongly contaminated experience unfolds helplessly before one’s eyes.

What most experience or witness through the lens of a prototypical “perfectionist” is one who goes to (and demands) extremes. Perspective is often lost through the keen eye of the result-enthralled perfectionist. Keep in mind that some of the most highly successful individuals carry some perfectionistic tendencies, yet seem to use them to their advantage. Holding oneself to a high standard is an integral component of attaining greatness, reaching new heights and breaking performance barriers; so there is certainly some value in incorporating aspects of a perfectionist approach. The difference lies in the way in which perfection is perceived and applied.

At first glance, it would seem that continuously repeating tasks effortlessly while receiving flawless results would be a euphoric experience. Fortune, glory and fame would consistently linger at one’s fingertips. Life doesn’t seem to get much better than that, right? Yet, a deeper look might uncover something different. If tasks are repeatedly performed to perfection with very little output or effort required…would those endeavors truly remain enjoyable, worthwhile or interesting? Doesn’t perfection actually become quite boring after a while, with the guarantee that everything will simply fall into place by “just showing up”?

A golfer attempts to make a very short putt

A golfer standing 1-foot from the hole, who repeatedly drains putt after putt has attained perfection for the task. Desired results are achieved over and over again, with little effort or energy expended. After some time passes, however, the boredom of this task becomes just as uncomfortable as the anxiety felt from NOT achieving the desired result repeatedly. Needless to say, it seems there must be another component involved in the pursuit of perfection.

challenging shot

The most cutting-edge and highly motivated performers are those who understand the “perfect” performance is one which stimulates passion, engagement and the thrill of embracing the unknown. Rather than merely (and quite boringly) expecting the perfect result, seek meaningful opportunities to feel the rush of excitement which supplements opportunities to test personal limits and experience what’s possible. By continuously bumping up against the barrier of current skill levels, one starts experiencing the ultimate euphoria which accompanies unlocking human potential. When perfection is measured more by the excitement, stimulation and quality of the experience, rather than just the results which accompany it – passion, engagement and exhilaration take a front seat. This view of perfection will end up taking one much further in life, supplemented by abundant satisfaction from the experience itself, which is often lost on the result-seeking perfectionist. Teetering on the edge of success and failure is truly the perfect scenario to fulfill the human desire for excitement, thrill and bursts of adrenaline. Rather than desiring the boredom of repeatedly completing a task; seek perfection by testing limits, expanding horizons and exploring the boundaries of previously untapped potential.

Discipline…What Does it Mean to You?

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Discipline is a strong word which elicits emotional feelings within us. What comes to mind when you hear the word discipline? The likely image is a helpless person cowering away as another barks commands in an effort to place their will upon them. How about the term plate discipline – what comes to mind now? The pitcher nibbles around the plate with tempting options, yet the batter patiently waits for a pitch in the zone which can be driven back with authority for a hit. In success and adherence to achieving goals, this is likely a better image to maintain.

In daily life there are many tempting “pitches” which come our way. Many of these temptations are distractions which will lead us even farther from achieving our goals. The smell of hot, freshly salted french fries floating through the air is just one example which can quickly lead a dieter off track. Yet, if that individual can elicit some discipline for a few brief seconds, the temptation begins to disappear. By overcoming the distraction, adherence to a new and healthier lifestyle grows that much stronger by following through with the appropriate action. By re-programming the word discipline to stand for “making and acting upon appropriate decisions in times of temptation”, achieving long-term goals may be more readily attained.

As the holiday season approaches and temptations abound, the opportunity arises to build some momentum for showing discipline. This mindset will come in even more handy as those difficult resolutions arise in early January.


A Full Life is a Balanced Life

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Many coaches, athletes, parents, and administrators are “over-achievers.” In many circles, including those of us who write on this blog, over-achieving is often seen as an admirable trait. When there is little left in the tank, the greatest of competitors seem to be the ones who pour every last drop of effort into their training and competitive endeavors. As with everything in life, however, there seems to be a cost associated with this succeed-at-all-cost mindset.

Of course it takes tremendous dedication, passion, and enthusiasm to reach levels which others may not be able to achieve. High achievers will forever be linked to adjectives which relate to these ideals. High achievers also maintain a level of balance which over-achievers do not.

The question is often asked, “Are you a glass ‘half-full’ or a glass ‘half-empty’ kind of person”? Now equate that same question to an over-achiever. An over-achiever has a glass that is overflowing…and then…they continue to try to fit in even more. A high achiever on the other hand, understands the importance of finding a delicate balance in filling the glass and using resources wisely to not allow for a consistent waste of time, energy and precious personal resources. The over-achiever, meanwhile, looks to wrecklessly fill the glass without taking notice of their potentially harmful behavior.

This holiday season is a great time to assess that fine line between being an over-achiever and a high achiever. Take some time to evaluate daily habits to ensure your life is both full and balanced on and off the field. Happy holidays and all the best to our followers in 2013 and beyond!

Can We All Just Stay in 4th Grade?

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

I was working with one of my high school athletes recently and he made an interesting comment that resonated strongly with me and became a foundation in our work together. It allowed us to simplify a deep and useful concept. It has allowed him to take a deeper understanding and appreciation for developing his game. Here is how the conversation began…

“I liked 4th grade much better than 6th grade and beyond”, he said.

“Why is that?”, I asked.

“In 4th grade teachers gave comments on your work and report cards, in 6th grade and beyond you started getting grades”, he replied.

Commentary is open, flowing and provides plenty of wiggle room for personal interpretation and further deliberation. This sounds like the ultimate learning mindset. Grades are boxy, permanent and limit creativity by labeling results in one simple letter. This sounds like a limiting mindset. Why confine potential to a pre-determined box? Why make performance black and white rather than appreciating the ebbs and flows of a multi-shaded gray world? Yes, it’s clearly easier and much more convenient for athletes and coaches to simply throw a number, letter, or some other short label on performance. The problem is that it’s not truly helpful for the growth, development, and creativity of performance.

Life and athletic prowess would be a much more rewarding and self-motivating process by maintaining a 4th grade mindset over a 6th grade approach. In order to reach ones full, limitless potential keep the commentary coming and resist the urge to place simple tags on performance. Feedback that grows beyond “good/bad, right/wrong, yes/no” allows player development and continuous improvement to occur. Respect the fact that there is a wide spectrum of techniques, approaches, and development to experience out there. Nothing worthwhile in life comes easy. Feedback should be no different. Be a 4th grader, stay a 4th grader, and allow the helpful feedback through commentary to continue.

A Novel Concept

Over the past few weeks, I heard a novel concept over and over again.  A top NHL draft pick reflected… a Ivy league lacrosse player mused… an ACC tennis player said… a world class rower thought… “enjoying playing could be a good idea for me.”  All are extraordinary athletes, but suspect their may be greater potential waiting to be tapped.

Obviously my tongue is firmly in check when I suggest that this is a novel concept.  Nonetheless, one that seems a bit too far from the immediate reality of elite athletes.  Seems like things are a bit askew… fun replaced by fear… imagination smothered by intensity… enthusiasm hidden by ego… delight overshadowed by discipline.  “Fun” has become a dirty word and lost its ability to resonate with competitive coaches and athletes.

You can decide if it is sad or encouraging that young men and women competing in sport have to stumble back to fun in their collegiate and young professional years.  I do know however that it is immensely valuable that this reconnection with “play” is made.  I am optimistic that there’s a Stanley Cup, National Championship, Ivy League title, head race victory, or some other form of great athletic accomplishment in the future of the above athletes.  Enthusiasm and “fun” will be essential on the competitive journey, without them dearths of potential will remain untapped and the greatest achievements left undiscovered.

“Play” isn’t just for child’s sports… it’s for high performance.

Time Helps, Quality Required for Skill Development

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

Dr. K. Anders Ericsson has been the leading researcher on practice and mastery of skills in all domains of performance. Many people have heard his theory that it takes 10 years and 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert at anything. It’s clear that time is a critical factor in skill development; however, time is only one aspect of the theory. What defines practice as “deliberate” is possibly even more important than the time aspect, since the 10 year / 10,000 hour clock doesn’t really start ticking without it! There seem to be three important factors that dictate the quality of one’s practice time that coaches and athletes should strive to work toward. These factors might seem obvious, but there are not many athletes who train this way 100% of the time to maximize time and energy during practice sessions.

1)      Practice a task that is challenging. If the task is too easy to achieve, very little learning occurs because success is nearly automatic and eventually boredom sets in. If the task is too difficult to achieve, very little learning occurs because the individual is struggling so much that frustration typically leads to lack of effort. The designers of video games are masters at creating this first element of quality practice. They understand that if a game is too easy and the levels do not progress beyond one’s current ability, the player will get bored and quit playing the game. They also know that if they start a player at the hardest level right at the beginning without allowing them to slowly build skills and stretch their ability, the player will become extremely frustrated and quit because the challenge is too hard. In order to achieve element #1 of quality practice, practice drills and experiences should be challenging, without becoming overwhelming.

2)      Have an objective for every repetition. In golf, many players go out with a bucket of balls to the driving range and “just hit” or bring some balls to the putting green and “roll some putts”. While at the range, each ball should be directed at doing something specific (i.e., trying to hit a high draw at a target or working to feel the sensation in a specific part of your body while learning a new swing technique). While on the putting green setting up a specific drill or task to achieve will improve the quality of practice. While working on technique, training aids can assist the quality of practice, as long as the training aid is used with a specific purpose. This ensures that there is total attention and engagement in the activity. Since the mind runs the body, this is a critical element of learning and trains the body to feel the motion, rather than just making strokes with no real plan or purpose. This message clearly transfers to any sport or skill.

3)      Look for feedback from every repetition. Just to keep the golf example rolling – every shot hit at practice tells a story. If this information is ignored because of lack of attention, an emotional reaction, or any other distraction the learning curve is not advancing as quickly as it would from total engagement in the activity. Feedback allows for the recognition of patterns, immediate error correction from poorly executed shots, and positive reinforcement from well executed ones – all critical factors for effective learning and mastery of skills.

If an athlete follows these three principles of quality practice during sessions the individual is doing everything possible to reach their potential. Add 10 years and 10,000 hours to the equation and expert performance is likely to follow!

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