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Masters of Habit: The Deliberate Practice and Training of Jerry Rice

Masters of Habit: The Deliberate Practice and Training of Jerry Rice

Jerry Rice is widely considered to be the greatest wide receiver in the history of the National Football League. In addition to winning three Super Bowls, Rice holds nearly every single season and career receiving record available. He is also the NFL’s all-time leader in yards, receptions, and touchdowns.

Many experts say he may be the best football player ever, regardless of position. Basically, Rice was a one-in-a-lifetime talent. Literally, the best of the best.

Geoff Colvin’s popular book, Talent is Overrated, shares an interesting story about Rice’s work ethic and his approach to deliberate practice. As you’ll see, it wasn’t just talent that made Rice successful. We can all learn from this legendary NFL star’s approach and use similar strategies to improve our health, our work, and our lives.

The Training Schedule of Jerry Rice

This short excerpt from Talent is Overrated explains Rice’s typical training schedule.

In team workouts he was famous for his hustle; while many receivers would trot back to the quarterback after catching a pass, Rice would sprint to the end zone after each reception. He would typically continue practicing long after the rest of the team had gone home. Most remarkable were his six-days-a-week off-season workouts, which he conducted entirely on his own. Mornings were devoted to cardiovascular work, running a hilly five-mile trail; he would reportedly run ten forty-meter wind sprints up the steepest part. In the afternoons he did equally strenuous weight training. These workouts became legendary as the most demanding in the league, and other players would sometimes join Rice just to see what it was like. Some of them got sick before the day was over.

It is obvious that Jerry Rice put in an incredible volume of work. This is no surprise. Unwavering consistency is a requirement for achieving excellence. To put it simply, you can’t expect to become great at something without practicing it over and over.

However, it wasn’t just the amount of time Rice spent practicing that made the difference, he used other strategies to master his craft.

Excellence Requires More Than Just Practice

Excellence also requires the right kind of practice. The natural tendency for humans (professional athletes included) is to fall into a routine once we achieve an adequate level of performance.

For example, you might practice a golf swing the same way over and over. Or a professional wide receiver might practice running their routes the same way over and over. In the beginning, this repetition is required to develop skills. As I’ve mentioned in earlier articles (herehere, and here), it’s only by going through a volume of work that beginner’s can hope to reach a level of excellence.

At some point; however, you reach a certain skill level. Simply repeating the same pattern again and again doesn’t foster much additional growth. In fact, this is true at any level of skill. If you practice in the same way you always have, you’ll get the same results you always have.

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Anders Ericsson, the psychologist behind the 10,000 Hour Rule, explained this important caveat saying, “You don’t get benefits from mechanical repetition, but by adjusting your execution over and over to get closer to your goal. You have to tweak the system by pushing, allowing for more errors at first as you increase your limits.”

This is where Jerry Rice separated himself from the rest of the pack. He finished college as an All-American wide receiver, but he didn’t let his skills plateau. Even at a high level, Rice found ways to practice deliberately, rather than mindlessly. He pushed the edge of his abilities, rather than repeat old patterns without improvement. In other words, Rice always found ways to become one percent better.

Let’s talk about how Rice decided which areas to focus on improving.

Focus on Your Areas of Greatest Leverage

The classic test for speed in the NFL is the 40-yard dash. Before being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, Rice was reported as running the 40 in 4.7 seconds. For reference, in 2014 there were multiple quarterbacks and even a defensive lineman that posted faster times than that. And yet, it is unlikely that any of these players will have a career half as prolific as that of Jerry Rice.

Compared to other wide receivers, Rice’s mediocre speed could be seen as a weakness. How did he overcome it? By leveraging his greatest strengths. Here’s another quote from Colvin’s Talent is Overrated to further demonstrate the point..

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He designed his practice to work on his specific needs. Rice didn’t need to do everything well, just certain things. He had to run precise patterns; he had to evade the defenders, sometimes two or three, who were assigned to cover him; he had to outjump them to catch the ball and outmuscle them when they tried to strip it away; then he had to outrun tacklers. So he focused his practice work on exactly these requirements. Not being the fastest receiver in the league turned out not to matter. He became famous for the precision of his patterns. His weight training gave him tremendous strength. His trail running gave him control so he could change directions suddenly without signaling his move. The uphill wind sprints gave him explosive acceleration. Most of all, his endurance training — not something that a speed-focused athlete would normally concentrate on — gave him a giant advantage in the fourth quarter, when his opponents were tired and weak, and he seemed as fresh as he was in the first minute. Time and again, that’s when he put the game away. Rice and his coaches understood exactly what he needed in order to be dominant. They focused on these things and not on other goals that might have seemed generally desirable, like speed.

Consider how easy it would have been for Rice to practice in a different way.

Nobody would have questioned Rice if he spent all of his time training to improve his relative weakness (speed) and simply maintaining his other skills. Instead, he focused on mastering his assets — precision, endurance, and strength — to a degree beyond anyone else.

It doesn’t matter what skill you are trying to perfect, finding the areas where your particular skill set provides the greatest leverage and focusing on those areas will reap enormous benefits.

Applying This to Your Life

Jerry Rice was blessed with incredible talent, but it was his work ethic and his commitment to continual improvement that allowed him to transform that talent into one of the greatest careers that the NFL has ever seen.

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For you and me, the skills and circumstances may be very different from that of Jerry Rice, but the principles are the same. If we want to execute in real life and master the skills that are important to us, then we need to:

  1. Put in a volume of work.
  2. Focus on the areas of greatest leverage for your skill.
  3. Find ways to continually improve and move the needle forward rather than falling into routines and patterns once we develop adequate skill levels.

Masters of Habit is a series of mini-biographies on the rituals, routines, and mindsets of great athletes, artists, and leaders.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: velo_city via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 18, 2019

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

Some people will have a rain cloud hanging over them, no matter what the weather is outside. Their negative attitude is toxic to your own moods, and you probably feel like there is little you can do about it.

But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

If you want to effectively deal with negative people and be a champion of positivity, then your best route is to take definite action through some of the steps below.

1. Limit the time you spend with them.

First, let’s get this out of the way. You can be more positive than a cartoon sponge, but even your enthusiasm has a chance of being afflicted by the constant negativity of a friend.

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In fact, negativity has been proven to damage your health physically, making you vulnerable to high levels of stress and even cardiac disease. There’s no reason to get hurt because of someone else’s bad mood.

Though this may be a little tricky depending on your situation, working to spend slightly less time around negative people will keep your own spirits from slipping as well.

2. Speak up for yourself.

Don’t just absorb the comments that you are being bombarded with, especially if they are about you. It’s wise to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but being too quiet can give the person the impression that you are accepting what’s being said.

3. Don’t pretend that their behavior is “OK.”

This is an easy trap to fall into. Point out to the person that their constant negativity isn’t a good thing. We don’t want to do this because it’s far easier to let someone sit in their woes, and we’d rather just stay out of it.

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But if you want the best for this person, avoid giving the false impression that their negativity is normal.

4. Don’t make their problems your problems.

Though I consider empathy a gift, it can be a dangerous thing. When we hear the complaints of a friend or family member, we typically start to take on their burdens with them.

This is a bad habit to get into, especially if this is a person who is almost exclusively negative. These types of people are prone to embellishing and altering a story in order to gain sympathy.

Why else would they be sharing this with you?

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5. Change the subject.

When you suspect that a conversation is starting to take a turn for the negative, be a champion of positivity by changing the subject. Of course, you have to do this without ignoring what the other person said.

Acknowledge their comment, but move the conversation forward before the euphoric pleasure gained from complaining takes hold of either of you.

6. Talk about solutions, not problems.

Sometimes, changing the subject isn’t an option if you want to deal with negative people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be positive.

I know that when someone begins dumping complaints on me, I have a hard time knowing exactly what to say. The key is to measure your responses as solution-based.

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You can do this by asking questions like, “Well, how could this be resolved?” or, “How do you think they feel about it?”

Use discernment to find an appropriate response that will help your friend manage their perspectives.

7. Leave them behind.

Sadly, there are times when we have to move on without these friends, especially if you have exhausted your best efforts toward building a positive relationship.

If this person is a family member, you can still have a functioning relationship with them, of course, but you may still have to limit the influence they have over your wellbeing.

That being said, what are some steps you’ve taken to deal with negative people? Let us know in the comments.

You may also want to read: How to Stop the Negative Spin of Thoughts, Emotions and Actions.

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