Extraordinary Practice

Connecting Theory to Practice Design

Let me start off by saying, this is a coaching book written by a coach who has been passionate about getting better for over 30 years. I have a degree in physical education and coaching but consider myself more of a coach then an academic. Let me explain why the distinction is so important. In the beginning of my coaching career I did what most young coaches do, I tried to imitate the top coaches, after all that was how I was trained. In a sense I was becoming a coaching robot, constrained by the idea that if top coaches do it this way, and it is the way I was trained as a player, it must be the best way, the right way, and essentially the only way. Why would an American football coach question the use of a blocking sled? Why would a baseball coach question the use of a batting tee? Why would a soccer coach question using cones to dribble through? Why do so many soccer coaches follow tactical periodization? Why do most football programs schedule their weeks the exact same way? Why do so many sports separate the players by position for large parts of training? Why are so many basketball drills not realistic to the actual game? There was always a small part of me that questioned what players actually transferred from training to the real game, but I never knew how to pursue that idea, and that’s when I started to pursue the academic side of player development. As soon as I started my research I was hooked, the information led me down new paths, the new paths opened up more new paths, new ideas, it made me reflect on past beliefs, ultimately discovering this new world where theory was connected to practice design. I began by studying human performance through a cognitive processing model, which was absolutely fascinating. My work in the cognitive field became so well known, it has been published multiple times in Trainers Magazine, one of Europe’s top coaching resources. I was the only American Coach featured at the “Conference for Neuroscience & Football” in Spain, discussing the connection of neuroscience on practice design. My theory on constraint based training and increasing soccer intelligence was broadcast nationally on SiriusXM “The Coaching Academy”,  and professional soccer clubs sought out my methods for player development. After studying the cognitive processing model, I began to study Gibson’s Theory of Ecological Dynamics. Ecological dynamics is a fascinating theory that has had a major impact on my coaching ideas, it has helped me to further connect theory to practice design. However the reason I say I am a coach first, is because the academic people that do study these topics dedicate their entire lives to them, where I have dedicated my entire career to coaching, so it would not be right to say I am an absolute expert on the academic side, even though I have spent years studying it. My evolution as a coach is constant, the difference is that my on-field ideas are now connected to the academic side. If you ask me why I am doing something, I can document the actual academic theory behind it. The reality is that most coaches are not academics and most academics are not coaches, but finding that connection between the two are so important. I am sure that some academic people reading this may question a couple of the ideas, and some coaches may have to get out of their comfort zones to apply the ideas, but my goal in writing this is to open your mind up to uncommon ideas that can create real value in your teams development. Enjoy the book and feel free to contact me with any questions. I do consider site visits and staff education for certain projects. Contact: coachdibernardo@coachdibernardo

Representative Game Design

This concept is probably the most important part of practice design. Does the actual practice look and play like the game? In a sport like soccer does the exercise have realistic attacking, defending, and transition, if the exercise does not have all the parts, how representative can we make it?  A major part of representative game design is the real coupling and cues. If a player is running through football dummies, dribbling in-between cones, training in isolation or in a small group, hitting a golf ball off a flat piece of turf, running plays against tackling dummies, hitting a blocking sled, shooting baskets from a stationary spot for repetitions, or hitting baseballs from a batting tee, these all lack in the coupling of real cues, they lack true representative game design, because they are not the real game. When you separate the game into pieces it loses value in my opinion, the more you can design your exercises to be more “whole” or game representative with real cues, the better. I am not saying you can’t do anything that is not totally game representative, but don’t think the transfer to the real game will be incredibly effective. The coach might feel that their practice was great, but it may not have done much in terms of improving the team. If I was an American Football Coach I would be playing small-sided low to no contact football games on a regular basis. How many times in sports do you see the players high step through cones or dummies, then go into a sports movement, what is the point of all the other movements that are not game-related? I understand why people do this for conditioning and also an exploration of movements, but I feel many coaches just do these types of exercises because they have never thought about representative game design. Football and baseball are two sports that separate players by position for long periods at practice. I question the organization of the typical baseball and football practice, it means that the overall representative game design is very low because it is not the whole game, it is a small part of the whole, the coupling of cues is low, and training parts instead of the whole needs to be questioned. Another major factor is the development of game intelligence, it is very difficult to develop game intelligence in players without having them play in environments that contain real cues, attacking, defending, and transition. When I think of football linemen pushing a blocking sled for their entire career, it makes no sense to me in terms of acquiring any type of new skillset. There is simply no variability or adaption of technique needed, the sled is not a real person, the cues and variability are missing, it is flat out not game representative. I understand if the purpose of a blocking sled is for conditioning, but that is about it in my eyes. In the sport of soccer, I can’t tell you how many trainings I see that have very little correlation to the actual game. Over the years I have been focused on how many meaningful decisions do players make, in a game representative practice session, this is a major factor in developing game intelligence.  

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