Deliberate Practice

Define goals for every training opportunity and plans for achieving them.

Deliberate practice means setting specific training goals for the purpose of skill development.  The concept of deliberate practice was pioneered by K. Anders Ericsson and his fellow researchers at Florida State University.

When people talk about “training with intention,” they're describing something similar to deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice generally goes beyond the curriculum that your instructor is teaching.  True deliberate practice means setting specific, tailored objectives to ensure your training time is focused on the areas you want to improve.

It's important to note that the classic “move of the day” teaching style isn't really deliberate practice.  Yes, in this class structure there is a training goal, but it's a general goal selected by the instructor and not one specifically tailored to help you address the areas you need to work on.

Deliberate practice goals are often defined by the coach, but this isn't required.  If your coach isn't setting deliberate goals for you, this is something you can do yourself.

Ultimately, the goal of deliberate practice is to make sure you're training consciously.  It's too easy to turn your brain off at Jiu-Jitsu and just focus on the roll.  That might be fun, but it's not always the best for skill development.


Applying deliberate practice to BJJ

If you want to add a degree of deliberate practice to your training, add the following routine to each session:

  1. BEFORE: Define goals that help you focus on the skills you want to improve.

  2. DURING: Actively steer training toward those goals.

  3. AFTER: Reflect on what worked, what didn't, and add necessary adjustments for the next session.

This is an example of a feedback loop, and like most feedback loops, you'll get best results if you go through the loop quickly and often.


Deliberate practice and goal-setting

You might be asking, “setting training goals for deliberate practice is great, but what do good goals look like?”

Good deliberate practice goals are:

  • specific enough that you can act on them,

  • measurable enough that you'll know if you succeeded,

  • realistic given your current skill level,

  • unrelated to outcomes, and

  • within your control to achieve.

Ever heard of SMART goals?  It's like those.

“Whenever I'm in seated guard, attempt to play single leg X guard” would be a solid goal for deliberate practice. “Don't get submitted by Bob” would not.  You specifically want to avoid outcome-oriented goals like the latter, because they encourage you to steer away from growth areas and focus on where you're comfortable.

In addition to short-term goals for each training session, don't forget to set long-term goals!  Your short-term goals should directly lead to your long-term goals.


Deliberate practice and gameplanning

Deliberate practice is not about “developing the perfect gameplan.”  It's about developing skills.

In fact, if you're doing deliberate practice right, you'll often be working on things outside your gameplan, because those are likely to be undertrained areas that could represent weaknesses in your game.

The art of gameplanning is about creating a strategy to maximize your chances of winning under the ruleset.  Deliberate practice, on the other hand, is about maximizing your skill development.  If done right, deliberate practice means you'll lose a lot more often in the training room.  This is a good thing.


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