When most see an athlete successfully perform an amazing feat of skill, under pressure in a meaningful game, their first thought is usually “I can’t believe he/she did that.” This rightfully appreciative thought often reflects an underlying belief that this feat was a singularity; it was so amazing that it just couldn’t possibly happen often and it wouldn’t happen again for a very long time.
That belief is wrong, and the reality of amazing skill is totally different.
Only a few weeks ago, talent development researcher Daniel Coyle found perhaps the greatest video evidence ever to show the reality of how amazing feats of skill are actually performed. This reality shows that world class skill is developed very simply – it is forged in the crucible of amazing repetition.
On November 23, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. caught what many are calling the greatest catch in the history of the NFL. It has been replayed hundreds of times on ESPN since. However, what has not been seen by nearly as many is the video of Odell Beckham Jr. making multiple almost identical catches in warm-up that same day. Click here to see the two videos back to back.
As Coyle states, the famous catch made in the game that night was not an accident, and for Odell Beckham Jr it was not even unexpected; it was quite simply “a feat of preparation.” In other words, this amazing feat of skill successfully performed under pressure in a meaningful game was practiced and performed hundreds of times when no one was watching, no one cared, and when, at least initially, the practice was probably a series of amazing failures.
Most people don’t like the mundane answers of “practice” and “repetition” to explain how to develop world class skill – they would prefer an explanation that was more ethereal and ultimately based on an innate talent these individuals were born with. But naïve desire for a more exciting answer doesn’t change reality; the most amazing feats of skill are performed through the most amazing amounts of repetition. And amazing amounts of repetition comes from desire.
A recent interview with French soccer superstar Thierry Henry explains more about the role of desire in becoming great. Through his career, Henry has been a World Cup champion, English Premier League winner, Spanish La Liga winner, and Champions League winner. In an interview discussing the potential end of his career this season, Henry described the thousands of hours he has spent training basic skills and common situations in the game in order to become better. More importantly, he also described in one word the greatest gift that an athlete can have: “desire.” After describing “desire to be the best you can possibly be” as the most important quality and gift to become exceptional, one of the greatest goal-scorers in the history of world soccer ironically stated “I wasn’t born with a gift for goals.”
Even more succinctly, after all of his achievements, when asked whether he has reached the top, his answer was fantastically simple: “No. You should never feel satisfied. Aim higher, always.”
When read together, the path to elite performance and the path to amazing skill, is incredibly simple and boring, and incredibly difficult:
- Start with desire. Desire to be great. Be desperate to become better.
- Train the basics and the fundamentals. Thousands of times. Practice every situation in the game you can think of. Over and Over.
- Aim Higher.