The concept of "deliberate practice" to improve shooting performance
In recent years, leading Anglo-Saxon instructors have frequently used the term "deliberate practice" when addressing certain aspects of training (1). This is particularly the case of Travis Halley, who was undeniably the first to introduce this notion into his thinking and his "Disruptive science" training programs. But concretely, what is it about? What are the mechanisms? How do we integrate these principles into our training process? So many questions that are interesting to study when you are a conscientious professional and you are looking to drastically increase your operational capabilities.
Genesis of this concept:
During his work on performance psychology, Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson relied on the assumption that talent is not innate and that the highest levels of skill, regardless of the subject matter, can be acquired by anyone through certain forms of training.
"You are not born an expert, you become one"
The study he carried out on a wide range of virtuosos in many fields (sport, art, music, chess, medicine...) made it possible to highlight certain significant common practices, to model and synthesize them in order to outline a process of acquiring skills and optimizing performance that he grouped under the term "deliberate practice".
"In virtually every area of human activity, people have an extraordinary ability to improve their performance, provided they train properly." – K. Anders Ericsson
The pillars of deliberate practice
Schematically, deliberate practice is essentially based on the following principles:
>The most precise technical work possible
>Combined with permanent
feedback>And focused on correcting defects and filling in gaps
But how is this practice "deliberate"?
The term "deliberate" in this case is associated with three concepts:
Consciously perform every gesture, every effort. Pay continuous attention to the smallest movement and the smallest details.
Be sure of its correctness. Know precisely the "HOW". No room is left for approximation, no element of the gesture is performed in an "intuitive" way in "autopilot". The slightest parasitic gesture must be eliminated to obtain the purest and most fluid gestures possible.
Know in detail the "WHY". Understand the reason, cause and effect of each gesture in its smallest subtleties. Why one approach is more effective than another, why this gesture is better suited in a particular context and when it is wiser to deploy one strategy over another.
In concrete terms, what does this involve?
According to Ericsson, a deliberate practice must consist of the following:
1. Set specific and achievable goals
Training doesn't just mean setting a goal to be "better." An overly vague approach and anarchic and all-out training will not be effective and will not achieve the desired results.
It will therefore be necessary above all to "map" all your needs (e.g. being able to draw from a discreet port, shoot in motion, reload, treat all types of jamming, use cutlery, engage multiple opponents, 360 °, etc ...), to prioritize them, then dissect them until reaching their most basic level: A complex movement is indeed always composed of a succession of much simpler movements. (ex: A drawer consists of a firm and definitive grip, then a linear weapon exit until it is in articular stop, then a pivot to orient the barrel towards the target, etc ...).
You will then have to turn your full attention to your deficiencies and weaknesses. (ex: My handling during the first phase of the unsheathed is not always identical), the objective being to work specifically and in isolation each particular technical point. Once this preliminary reflection is done, you will have to set specific objectives (ex: I want to be able to draw from a hidden port in less than 1.5 sec) and especially achievable gradually. Setting the bar too high from the outset would be counterproductive. Once the goal is achieved, it is necessary to gradually increase the difficulty by setting new objectives. The intervention of an experienced instructor will be particularly useful in this process and will help to establish performance standards.
"There is no point beyond which more training cannot lead to improvements" K. Anders
2. Practice with the highest degree of concentration
Training based on deliberate practice implies that the shooter mobilizes all his cognitive faculties to focus entirely on the precise action to be performed. Any parasitic thought or solicitations that are not directly related to the gesture being worked on must be prohibited. Since the human brain can only optimally process a limited amount of information at the same time, it is a question of devoting all these precious resources to every detail of the action to be performed.
3. Get immediate feedback on your performance
Being able to analyze one's own performance in real time is absolutely essential to identify areas for improvement and to see the progress made, in the most objective way possible. The presence of a "coach" during these training phases makes it possible to immediately make the necessary corrections to a good practice and thus prevent the shooter from automating defects by repeating deficient gestures (2).
In the absence of an outside look (especially in the context of daily practice) it is recommended to film yourself (an image does not cheat, and does not show complacency). The use of "autoscopy" will allow you to analyze your gestures by yourself and become aware of the points to work on (3).
And as for training at the stand, the use of gongs (when it is authorized and the safety conditions are met) will be particularly beneficial to have immediate feedback on each shot fired. Indeed, at the ringing of the gong the brain will immediately take into account the fact that all the strategies it has deployed at that precise moment will have made it possible to obtain the desired result. The following shots will then be based on this positive experience that the brain will try to reproduce identically by following the same process. Conversely, in case of failure, the stimulus received by the brain will be negative which will lead to corrections and an immediate change of strategy (even unconsciously) as many times as necessary until reaching the desired goal.
When shooting at a paper target (4), it is sometimes difficult to identify which shot, which set of sensations, is associated with which impact. The analysis of the target must then use other more global mechanisms and the feedback will not be truly instantaneous.
4. Get out of your comfort zone
The fact of performing a training exclusively based on what we do correctly is certainly motivating, but unfortunately quite unproductive. Doing at leisure these exercises that we love precisely because we excel at them will unfortunately not allow us to progress, or at least not significantly. The secret to an effective training process is to constantly put yourself in trouble.
But be careful, getting out of your comfort zone doesn't just mean training harder or longer by working repetitively. It also involves knowing how to develop new "strategies", even if it means leaving our training routine to approach from a new angle the difficulties we cannot overcome.
5. Have regular practice to improve your shooting
A fundamental aspect of deliberate practice and what makes it so effective is precisely its regularity (5). It is indeed much more beneficial to train for a few minutes each day while being perfectly focused on the task at hand (brief, but intense) rather than to perform long training sessions much more punctual.
In this case, a daily "dry" training (6), of a few minutes, will be infinitely more profitable than a few annual training sessions (even if you spend long hours drilling each time).
"The amateur trains until his gesture is right, the professional trains until his gesture can no longer be wrong."
Why is deliberate practice so effective?
Before going any further, for readers who would be followers of the adage: "I do not need to know how my watch works to read the time", I suggest skipping everything that follows, and going directly to the phase of applying the principles set out above. For others... I propose to study (at our modest level) the mechanisms of the human brain in terms of learning in order to understand why such an approach to training is so effective.
The human brain has an extraordinary capacity to adapt to new situations. It is inherently malleable and can create, modify and consolidate its neural networks on demand. In this way it does not waste valuable biological resources with a fixed system that could become obsolete/unsuitable for new situations. Brain neuroplasticity thus offers the ability to create new connections (axons) between neurons for each new need whatever its nature (including motor functions). Once these connections are created and by dint of repetition, a consolidation process is set up. A substance called myelin then sheaths and isolates these nerve fibers that allow communication between neurons. The transmission of the signal (nerve impulses or action potential) is thus more precise and faster. With deliberate practice, on the one hand you isolate the areas of the brain essential for the task you want to accomplish: hence the importance of concentration and focusing all your attention on the smallest detail (7) and on the other hand by activating these specific neural connections again and again through repetition or visualization (8). Your brain continuously strengthens these connections, gradually turning the "little path" into a "highway" of communication between the neurons involved. And all this results in a drastic increase in your capabilities and performance.
Many professionals are convinced that they are not able to exceed the level reached (even if it is mediocre). On this point, they are very seriously mistaken and insidiously "program" themselves not to be able to progress. Many think that the resources made available to them by their institution are very insufficient, and on this point, it is clear that they are very often right. That said, the fact of not being able to benefit from more ammunition for training, more frequent shooting sessions, more advanced and better adapted training, does not prevent progress for those who really want it. Indeed, performing simple dry work exercises, or visualization, applying the principles of deliberate practice, is already an excellent way to improve drastically. And since no one becomes an "exceptional fighter" by accident or innately, those who really want to progress must be fully aware that this requires not only specific in-depth work, but also great personal investment. Why have such an approach? Well simply because in this "sport" there is no second step on the podium. At the "moment of truth" ... There must be no better person on this planet than you. Because in this very particular field that is combat, being "not too bad", or even "just good" can one day cost you your life.