Nike has it all wrong. “Just do it” is pure hype. Winning athletes are not “just doing it.” Showing up to just go through the motions will not get the results you’re seeking. Putting in the hours is important, but there is so much more to achieving excellence. Think quality along with quantity.

Research within the past couple years has shed new light on how our brains operate. Lots of it is boring, unless you’re the scientist overseeing the study. What’s fascinating are the findings. Neuroscience is killing the old belief of innate talent.  There’s more to greatness than the luck of being born as a gifted athlete.

It all boils down to how you practice. Dr. K. Anders Ericsson coined the term deliberate practice. Strategic training is the essence of mastery. Physical size is important. Size, however, does not explain how athletes who don’t have an athletic build end up becoming superstars.

Elite athletes train differently than everyone else. Training like a superstar offers you an edge over the competition. Study your favorite athlete from a new perspective. Instead of only focusing on technique take it deeper. Notice how they constantly push beyond their comfort zone seeking new levels of ability. Observe the work ethic.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, reveals how athletes excel at sports. His reports on the way our brain acquires new skills. Laser focused, high quality training shortens the learning curve. Imagine stepping up the pace for optimal results. According to Coyle, “it’s in the details of your practice habits.” Now that is a game changer.

Follow these 3 steps for your head start:

–  Working on technique: It’s more than just doing the same thing repeatedly and automated. That will get you nowhere fast.

Ninja trick: When practicing and you make a mistake. Stop. Take the time to recognize what you did, imagine doing that technique with perfect execution and then try it again. Consistent incremental improvement helps move the needle forward.

–  Constant “critical” feedback: Putting yourself down works against you. There’s going to be some things you haven’t mastered yet. Allowing yourself to make mistakes leads to some of your deepest learning.

Ninja trick: Own it. Don’t see mistakes as failure. Learn what needs to be changed and then get to work. Seek out coaching. Look for small doses of feedback, understand what needs to be corrected and then practice for the new.

–  Strengthening the weaknesses: It’s so easy to develop a bad habit. Trying to break it though can be really tough.

Ninja trick: Our brains crave variety. It’s boring to be doing the same thing over and over in the same manner. Instead mix it up. Work on improving a weakness but vary the approach. For instance become a better hill climber when running by varying the grade, tempo and distance in training.

Know what you want to aim for during your practice time. Keep it simple. Instead of trying to conquer everything, you’ll see more success when you focus on one strategic change at a time.

Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual skill building with a systematic approach leads to high performance. These basics apply to all athletes, regardless of your sport.

Passion for your sport motivates you to continue practicing through boredom or frustration.  Persistence will take you from good to great. As you improve one technique, move on to the next. If you’re not sure how to pull it all together then ask for feedback from your coach. Remember, allow yourself to make a BIG mistake. It’s the sweet spot for learning.

I’m curious about your ninja tricks for quality practice? What works best for you? I’d love to hear about it.

Challenge: Knowing something and doing something are two separate things. Moving the needle closer to your goals requires taking action. Maybe that’s where the “just do it” slogan works. Don’t think it through too much. I teach my clients how to set an intention to optimize their performance.

Before practice, decide what you’re going to focus on. Even if your coach has a workout for you, you can still have your personal goals. If you don’t know what they ought to be, then ask yourself, “Do I know what I want?” to help figure it out.

Don’t be so sure only one best way exists for improving your skills. Be creative in your approach. What can you do to make it fun? Our brains light up to the novelty of new things.

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