“Struggle is not optional – it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit.”

Chapter 2 & 3 Takeaways:

  • Myelin = Skill
  • The Science behind Skill-Development
  • System for Skill-Development

As a minimalist when it comes to science comprehension, the key word to know is myelin. It is a neural insulator that strengthens the brain’s ability to unconsciously apply skill. In other words, myelin equals skill. The more myelin you develop through deep practice – targeting mistakes – the faster the brain can fire the right signals to move accurately and effectively. If you have the time, the video below gives a good summary of how it all works.

Speaking beyond skill-acquisition to the individual, how can this be done with the team? The Talent Code uses The Renaissance as an example, recognized for a stretch of great achievement and discovery during the 14th and 15th century in Europe. The analogy recognizes the social invention of craft guilds as an incubator for aspiring minds to gather and develop. It was, in essence, an apprenticeship system where children could begin shadowing craftsmen/artists to learn as much as they could in 5 to 10 years time. From a coaches standpoint, it would be an infrastructure comparable to our coaching tree where Coach Phog Allen would hire Adolph Rupp later to take a job and bring Dean Smith on as an assistant. Rupp kills it giving Coach Smith a chance to take over his own program hiring Bob Knight with Coach K as the graduate assistant. Make sense?

“The apprentice system, with its long period of study, early acquaintance with varied materials, copying, and collaborative work, somehow allowed boys who were probably quite ordinary in every respect to be turned into men possessing a high degree of artistic skill.”

On the players’ perspective, collective skill-development is based on the system nurturing talent. Creating an environment that breeds enthusiasm to learn, competitiveness to improve, and commitment to endure challenging times. Competitive team practices appropriately challenge each athlete. Infrastructure in place that trains younger basketball players with the proper fundamentals, preferably in the alignment of instruction taught at the higher levels reducing the learning curve cognitively. Programs that seem to have the most sustainable success likely have a system in place doing just those things.

Coaching Application

If skill is best developed best through mistake-focused practices where athletes are failing and having to independently focus to figure it out, what are we doing as coaches to create that environment?

Stolen from Archie Miller, we have a saying often used during the early adoption stages of the season – “Don’t freeze, fix it.” There is a lot of correlation of skill-development to the practice of sports psychology. There is a book called The Inner Game of Tennis that discusses how to master peak performance by ignoring our self-conscious and allowing our non-conscious instincts to take over. There is the idea that has infants we found out how to walk on our own. Through guidance and reassurance from our guardians, we had to take the risk of standing with balance and walk step-by-step without really understanding instructions. It is skill-development at its core based on trial-and-error with our mistakes teaching us proper mechanics to move.

“For the teacher or coach, the question has to be how to give instructions in such a way as to help the natural learning process of the student and not interfere with it.”

Things that we can do as coaches to create an environment of self-awareness for skill-development:

  1. Let them play
  2. Ask sensory questions – What did you see? Where were your feet?
  3. If you know teach, if you don’t know watch

The hope is that the more we empower our guys to lead the more cerebral they will be about their own fundamentals, mechanics, or decision-making.

The Renaissance had craft guilds, we have coaching trees. What ways have you experienced or established an apprenticeship system as a coach? 

Coaching trees exist from former assistants creating opportunities for themselves as head coaches, later to pay it forward to future staffers of their own (see image above – Bob Huggins coaching tree). Job opportunities come to exist largely because of the success of the program while under mentorship, but there are likely traits from the head of the table that contribute to future head coaching consideration. From my college playing days, there are now 5 teammates of mine that are coaching at either the high school or collegiate level. That seems like quite a bit. Couldn’t speak for them as for their reasoning to get into it and if there was any correlation to our experiences during our play days contributing to getting into coaching. However, my experience was with a program that had tradition to compete for postseason championship opportunity with a locker room of guys that I could appreciate coaching if in a similar position. So, I think my experience playing gave me the inclination that it was something I would want to be a part of from a leadership standpoint moving forward.

As a coach now, I look to operate with similar intentions for both my student-athletes and staff. I want to create an environment of inclusivity and empowerment. It is encouraged for our staff to have as much of a voice as possible, some times creating roles that they feel most comfortable (i.e. defensive coordinator or strength/conditioning). My athletes understand that I tend to ask a lot of questions in regards to what they see during the game and their feedback following certain situations. My hope (for those interested) is that it allows themselves to think the game on a deeper level, develop close relationships, and find the competitiveness alluring to possibly lead a program of their own in the future.


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