Quality v Quantity; An Introduction to the Importance of High Quality Training


“Quality … you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. What the hell is Quality? What is it?”

Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Athletes will only improve and become masters of their skill through high quality practice, fact.

You have all heard about the 10,000 hour rule, ‘it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.’    Whilst there are theories that debunk this ‘rule’, the important word to notice in the latter sentence is the word ‘deliberate’.

‘Deliberate’ indicates that the endless hours of practice are not simply a case of turning up and going through the motions, but a case of focussed, meaningful and high quality practice.



As coaches, it is important to understand how the brain and body learns new skills in order to most effectively teach new skills.  This process is called Neural Pathway Development.





“Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge about the world. Memory is the retention or storage of that knowledge. . . .alterations in the brain (are) produced by learning”

(Kupfermann, 1991, p. 997).


As an athlete learns to a new skill, certain pathways within the brain are reinforced. These pathways within the brain are composed of electrochemical messages between neutrons and as an athlete practices deliberately, these electrochemical messages between neurons become routine.  The more often a pathway is used, the more sensitive the pathway becomes and the more developed that pathway becomes in the athletes brain. As these pathways develop, the collective group of used pathways become a map of how an athlete moves, thinks, performs etc.

Therefore, if you perform a skill incorrectly over and over again, you are teaching the body and the brain to perform that skill incorrectly.  In order to learn a correct skill, an athlete must do two things:

1) be aware of how to perform the skill

2) consciously try to fix the problems in performing that skill under instruction (i.e.coaching)


And this is where the importance of ‘high quality’ practice comes in.  It is a coaches job to ensure that the athlete is practicing correctly and teaching their brain the correct neural pathways which reinforce the learning of that new skill.

The next step to ensuring high quality practice, is understanding the 4 phases of learning the athlete goes through and to identify which level they are starting at to ensure you as the coach are ensuring deliberate practice:

Unconscious Incompetence – The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.

Conscious Incompetence – Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

Conscious Competence – The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

Unconscious Competence – The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.


As Coaches, it is our job to get the athletes to the Conscious Competence stage in order for that high quality practice to take place.  Once the athlete has reached this, the perfect 10,000 hours of practice kicks in, allowing the athlete to move to the Unconscious Competence phase of the skill in which they no longer need to think about each step of the skill and it has become second nature to them.



Author: FCN Speed Coach.  For more information about the FCN Speed Coach and to find out how they could support you and your team / athletes, please click here



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