An Application of 'Deep Practice'

“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes myelin, and myelin makes perfect.” – Daniel Coyle

According to Daniel Coyle (2009), an athlete can engage in deep practice under the parameters of the three rules including, “chunk it up, repeat it, and learn to feel it” (pgs. 79-90). Within the context of soccer training, coaches can implement the three rules of deep practice in order to aid the successful development of players. For instance, a coach could implement the three rules of deep practice within an exercise that teaches strikers to score goals off of cutback passes from wingers on the goal line.

A coach could develop the exercise with four groups of players including groups of players on both flanks with two groups positioned centrally. One central player would ping the ball out to the winger who would engage in a creative move to escape the manikin defender in order to gain entry along the goal line. As the winger engages in the action, two central players would make supporting, dynamic runs into the box in order to finish the wingers’ cutback pass at the penalty spot.

A coach could begin by “chunking it up” in a fashion that allows each player to “absorb the whole thing” (Coyle, 2009, pg. 80). After explaining the exercise, the coach could demonstrate the complete exercise in order to paint the exact picture of their players. “People in hotbeds stare and listen in this way quite a lot. It sounds rather Zen, but it basically amounts to absorbing a picture of skill until you can imagine yourself doing it” (Coyle, 2009, pg. 80).

Once the players have a reference point for imitation, the coach could then break the executions into chunks including the sprint to arrive into space, the timing and deceleration needed to position the body to score, and also the correct body position to finish with the proper technique (strong plant leg, chest over the ball, eyes on the ball, and a strong ankle/foot to make solid contact).

From there, the coach could then “slow it down” for the player in order to wire the myelin correctly and perform the skill perfectly. “First, going slow allows you to attend more closely to errors, creating a higher degree of precision with each firing – when it comes to growing myelin, precision is everything...Second, going slow helps the practicer to develop something even more important: a working perception of the skill’s internal blueprints – the shape and rhythm of the interlocking skill circuits” (Coyle, 2009, pg. 85).

Once the players have properly acquired the proper technique to score off of the cutback pass from the goal line, the coach must continue to reinforce such technical-tactical play by repetitions, as Coyle (2009) states the second rule of deep practice is to “repeat it”. The coach must allow the players ample repetitions in order to sufficiently wire the circuits. However, with that being said, the coach must constantly be aware of the player’s focus levels because “spending more time is effective – but only if you’re still in the sweet spot at the edge of your capabilities, attentively building and honing circuits” (Coyle, 2009, pg. 88), and if their focus level drops, the coach must move to the next phase of training.

Finally, the coach should encourage the players to “feel it” in terms of the proper body mechanics needed to finish the cutback pass with precision and consistency. Skye Carman, a former concertmaster said, “if you hear a string out of tune, it should bother you. It should bother you a lot. That’s what you need to feel. What you’re really practicing is concentration” (Coyle, 2009, pg. 91). To help encourage a player to “feel it”, the coach could say, “Feel your body contort with your shoulders dropping, ankle locking, and hip engaging to strike the ball.”

Developing skill and in particular soccer abilities is an extreme challenge, but the three rules of deep practice will aid that process. Norman Doidge (2007) said, “If you want to lift a hundred pounds, you don't expect to succeed the first time. You start with a lighter weight and work up little by little. You actually fail to lift a hundred pounds, every day, until the day you succeed. But it is in the days when you are exerting yourself that the growth is occurring” (pg. 358).


Coyle, D. (2009). The talent code. [electronic resource] : greatness isn't born : it's grown, here's how. New York : Bantam Books, 2009.

Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself : stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. New York : Penguin, 2007.

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