Stretching your Comfort Zone

Image by Marco Verch, original photo from Flickr

I’m dedicating this post to all first division and white division soccer players on the Island and to anyone who wonders if they could be just a little more than they currently are.

When watching someone exceptional perform have you ever felt like that person was from another planet? Superhuman maybe? Incredible in ways you could never dream? Today, a great debate is being waged on how excellence evolves. Well, fortunately now we have an actual debate. For the longest time there was no debating the topic. Greatness was innate. Something we were born with. You either had it or you didn’t.

Now we ask ourselves the question, talent — divine spark or inglorious practice?

In sports for example, we currently see people doing things with their bodies that we didn’t dream was possible fifty years ago. Have we evolved? Nope. Too short a time period. The standard of what we do with what we’ve been given has simply risen. Athletes are superior not because they are different but because they train themselves differently.

All this time we’ve probably had it wrong. The ability to excel at something is within most of us if we’re just willing to stretch our comfort zone and do some deliberate practicing.

Deliberate practice is different from regular practice. A great deal is now known about deliberate practice. One of the foremost experts on the topic of how we get really good at something was Anders Ericsson. His last book Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise I would highly recommend if you want to get past the belief that talent is only God-given. Here’s a summary of what the experts tell us deliberate practice is:

1. It is designed specifically to improve performance

2. It can be repeated a lot

3. Feedback on results is continuously available

4. It’s highly demanding mentally

5. It isn’t much fun

It’s that last one that stands in the way for most of us. Deliberate practice is not something we’d all choose to do. It’s not inherently enjoyable. In a sense, I think that’s the greatest defining characteristic of deliberate practice. A part of talent is practice and practice is a personal choice. Therefore, while it may well be within the grasp of most of us, only a few of us will choose to do it. Geoff Colvin, author of Talent is Overrated, really sums it up best:

“If it seems a bit depressing that the most important thing you can do to improve performance is no fun, take consolation in this fact: It must be so. If the activities that lead to greatness were easy and fun, then everyone would do them and they would not distinguish the best from the rest.”

So while we may all want to be the best at something, talking the talk is very different from walking the walk. And because of this, Colvin says:

“The reality that deliberate practice is hard can even be seen as good news. It means that most people won’t do it. So your willingness to do it will distinguish you all the more.”

It isn’t just about innate talent. We could, if we wanted, all work a little harder. We could, if we wanted, all reflect a little more on how well we are doing and what still needs to improve. While it may be true that some of the most exceptional athletes are just genetically different, we don’t have to set our sights on being the greatest. Instead, we could set our sights on becoming a little greater than we currently are. Isn’t that good to know that it could happen? Isn’t that worth the effort of stretching our comfort zones even just a little bit?

Time for a shameless plug. Our Club is offering a program called Stretch Soccer. The purpose of the program is to help stretch players out of their comfort zones by showing them that deliberate, focused effort can make you better. The program runs on Saturdays and is open for players ages 10 to 18. You can register here.

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Technical Ramblings

Technical Ramblings

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Posts dedicated to informing and educating the members of the Eliot River Ramblers Soccer Club about player, coach, official and program development.