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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 21, 2020

How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

How to Motivate People Around You and Inspire Them

If I was a super hero I’d want my super power to be the ability to motivate everyone around me. Think of how many problems you could solve just by being able to motivate people towards their goals. You wouldn’t be frustrated by lazy co-workers. You wouldn’t be mad at your partner for wasting the weekend in front of the TV. Also, the more people around you are motivated toward their dreams, the more you can capitalize off their successes.

Being able to motivate people is key to your success at work, at home, and in the future because no one can achieve anything alone. We all need the help of others.

So, how to motivate people? Here are 7 ways to motivate others even you can do.

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1. Listen

Most people start out trying to motivate someone by giving them a lengthy speech, but this rarely works because motivation has to start inside others. The best way to motivate others is to start by listening to what they want to do. Find out what the person’s goals and dreams are. If it’s something you want to encourage, then continue through these steps.

2. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions are the best way to figure out what someone’s dreams are. If you can’t think of anything to ask, start with, “What have you always wanted to do?”

“Why do you want to do that?”

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“What makes you so excited about it?”

“How long has that been your dream?”

You need this information the help you with the following steps.

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3. Encourage

This is the most important step, because starting a dream is scary. People are so scared they will fail or look stupid, many never try to reach their goals, so this is where you come in. You must encourage them. Say things like, “I think you will be great at that.” Better yet, say, “I think your skills in X will help you succeed.” For example if you have a friend who wants to own a pet store, say, “You are so great with animals, I think you will be excellent at running a pet store.”

4. Ask About What the First Step Will Be

After you’ve encouraged them, find how they will start. If they don’t know, you can make suggestions, but it’s better to let the person figure out the first step themselves so they can be committed to the process.

5. Dream

This is the most fun step, because you can dream about success. Say things like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if your business took off, and you didn’t have to work at that job you hate?” By allowing others to dream, you solidify the motivation in place and connect their dreams to a future reality.

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6. Ask How You Can Help

Most of the time, others won’t need anything from you, but it’s always good to offer. Just letting the person know you’re there will help motivate them to start. And, who knows, maybe your skills can help.

7. Follow Up

Periodically, over the course of the next year, ask them how their goal is going. This way you can find out what progress has been made. You may need to do the seven steps again, or they may need motivation in another area of their life.

Final Thoughts

By following these seven steps, you’ll be able to encourage the people around you to achieve their dreams and goals. In return, you’ll be more passionate about getting to your goals, you’ll be surrounded by successful people, and others will want to help you reach your dreams …

Oh, and you’ll become a motivational super hero. Time to get a cape!

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