Deliberate Practice, neurology, & high-performance


coaches corner

I am sure many of you reading are familiar with what I am talking about in this post, either intuitively, or formally. I can tell you though, I don’t see it deliberately (see what I did there) taught to athletes. That’s a shame because it’s the quickest and most efficient way to create consistent performance.

As a volleyball dad, and sport psychology professional, I have witnessed a LOT of mindless reps. It makes me nuts to see volleyball players hitting lines in practice and in warm up for games and they dip under the net to shag their ball as part of the landing motion. It is a wasted opportunity to practice game like movement and is lining up neurons to support a useless behavior. Don’t get me started…

Mindless reps, at their best, are reinforcing what is already there. At their worst, they are grooving in lazy, sloppy, or bad behaviors.

An athlete must be intentional in working to master the movements, mechanics and mental processes of their sport and position.

Heres why:

Well practiced movements, mechanics, and mental processes create clusters of neurons that move to long-term memory and become automatic behaviors.

It’s All About the Neurons

What is 7×7? Hopefully, you said “49.”

Did you write 7, 7s on a piece of paper and do the arithmetic? Or did you fire off, “49” without thinking about the mechanics behind it? That’s the kind of automation that sits under elite performance.

An electric signal (instruction) between neurons travels about 2 miles per hour. That’s fast, if you think about their microscopic size and space.

A well-built cluster of neurons sends a signal at:

200 MPH!

Through deliberate practice of the mental game (along with the physical one) an athlete builds a collection of neuron clusters that are “on-deck” waiting to drive high performance at 200 mph! The more clusters, and the more automatic they become, the better and more consistent the performance

Deliberate Practice, Here’s How:


Break movements, thoughts, and actions into their basic parts and master each part. Practice what needs practice more than what is already done well. It’s human nature to do what we are good at, and ho-hum what we are not. Once each part is mastered, string them together and practice the whole chain. Physical movements and mental processes (and neurons), line up in order and are ready to be used in competition.

Focus on good reps

Good reps and solid experience are how the links of the neuron chain line up, reinforce themselves, and solidify. An athlete must stay on task and do what works, what is best, and have some fun. 20 reps in which focus is on the right mental and physical actions are better than 200 that just go through the motions!


Good coaching provides feedback as an athlete become more intentional in their skill building. Measure progress, identify the processes involved, and determine what is working and what is not as these automatic processes develop.

By systematically building clusters of neurons, athletes will have more go to shots, defensive moves, and fast and accurate decisions available in the heat of competition!

If you like what you read, and would like to blossom your athletes’ mental games through one-on-one coaching, group sessions, ZOOM, or any other way under the sun, reach out!
Dr. J

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