Beijing Olympics 2008.
Phelps was competing in the 200-meter butterfly race. If he wins the race it would be his 10th Olympic gold medal.
Everyone predicted Phelps to win. Everything indicated such a result until the race started. As Phelps dived in, his goggles broke and filled with water. He had to swim essentially blind, relying on the sense of internal rhythm he’d built up over a lifetime.
If you are competing at the highest level, even the slightest impediment can pull you down. But, not for Phelps. He went on to win the gold medal.
How did he manage? What helped him?
Bob Bowman coached Micheal Phelps from the age of 10. Bob says that this could happen because of the visualization practice that Phelps carries out before he jumps into the water, every time. Phelps will play the video of him swimming from one end to another counting the number of strokes. Phelps will visualize the number of strokes to complete the swim, the way he swims, and everything else. Phelps prepares himself for every eventuality in the field.
This helped him to finish with just 1/100th second ahead of the next swimmer. (Micheal Phelps finish time (1:53:70) vs László Cseh (1:54:48).
Micheal Phelps says visualization technique that he deliberately practiced which includes the number of strokes to the wall helped him to keep his pace without worrying about the inability to see the end line.
Can deliberate practice make such a huge difference in one’s performance?
Let us take another example from sports.
Let us talk about the Master Blaster — Sachin Tendulkar.(Top notch Cricket Player from India)
He has played 200 test matches scoring 15,921 runs at an average of 53.78 and 463 ODI matches scoring 18,426 runs at an average of 44.83.
Do you think Sachin is all about talent?
I am sure you don’t.
Sachin is known for his strict practice regime. Before Sachin goes into any match, he tries to practice every possible bowling technique that he may eventually face in that match.
Listen to what Ian Chappel talks about Sachin to get an idea of the kind of practice regime he follows
Wow. No doubt Sachin has enjoyed the status of Master Blaster in Cricket world for over 2 decades.
Deliberate Practice can make a huge difference when it comes to one’s performance.
A journey to superior performance is not an accident. But it is carefully crafted through deliberate practice.
Do we need to practice so much for something which has a very minimal probability of occurrence like in Phelps’s case?
Do we need to give one event so much importance in our daily practice regime as in Sachin’s case?
The answer lies in the fact that the chances of mind freezing when a situation goes beyond our control is less when we are prepared.
Let me present a third scenario where deliberate practice of good virtue provides you clarity in times of uncertainty.
Assume that you are a successful lawyer.
You are involved in a vehement argument for your client.
While you were deep into your arguments, it dawns on you that the client has committed atrocities in the matter.
What will you do?
You are duty-bound to fight for your client as per the contract you have entered with your client. But you realize that your client is equally at fault.
Your conscientious mind points you to do the right thing, which is to expose your client.
Will you make a U-turn and argue against your client?
Let us shift the scenario from courtroom to battlefield.
Your country has deployed you in an enemy state to fight a Militant Organisation. You are one of the top Helicopter pilots.
You got a call to support another unit purportedly fighting militants.
As you lower down the chopper, you see unarmed villagers being chased and killed by your army.
What will you do?
Your oath is to stand for the army, but your consciousness directs you to stand against your army to stop the atrocity?
It is a real incident that happened in America’s war in Vietnam.
The man who fought against his army is Hugh Thompson. He was supported by his crew and his seniors.
Thompson and the crew were issued orders to immediately deploy the choppers in a nearby area where the militants have ambushed US troops headed by Major Calley. As the Helicopter descended, Thompson was appalled to see unarmed civilians running for life chased by US troops.
Thompson also found an irrigation ditch full of Calley’s victims.
Thompson then radioed a message to accompany gunships and Task Force Barker headquarters, “It looks to me like there is an awful lot of unnecessary killing going on down there. Something is not right about this. There are bodies everywhere. There’s a ditch full of bodies that we saw. There’s something wrong ”
He landed the Helicopter between the advancing unit and the innocent villagers to stop the massacre. He then transported the wounded victims to safety.
It is pertinent to know that Hugh Thompson grew as a person of discipline and integrity. His family worked to abolish race discrimination and helped minority community to build their lives.
The Virtue that captured me was the clarity in his mind. In the middle of the war, one has to stand for righteousness is beyond comprehension. However, if you are a person who has practiced righteousness from an early age, then invoking the habit even at the time of crisis becomes an act of volition.
Clarity is a virtue. Courage follows clarity. Confusion leads to uncertainty. Any courage exhibited under uncertainty can lead to potential disaster.
Deliberate Practice of any virtue can help us attain clarity in times of uncertainty and mayhem.
Knowledge is power. But, Knowledge alone cannot lead you anywhere. We need to apply the knowledge consistently and deliberately practice to reach the desired outcome.
Whatever you want to instill in you, be it a skill or virtue, Practice deliberately.