Practice Design – Progression & Challenge

This is a short post based on recent observations of some practice activities/sessions being shared online.

I’m seeing a few recurring examples (usually of the “isolated technique” or “breakdown” drill variety – more on the issues with that here) where progressions of an activity are based on doing a skill(s) quicker, more accurately and/or executing greater number of repetitions without an error. The philosophy seems to be based on the idea that by doing this players are being “stretched” and improving performance – which seem logical.

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Players & Team Sports are “Complex Systems”- implications for player development

In this short(ish) video I use an example of a player on the ball in football (soccer) to illustrate that players perceptual & motor systems are operating concurrently, not in isolation. This has important implications for practice design, and brings to life the principle “simplification over decomposition” when dealing with a complex system – such as players performing in a dynamic team sport environment .

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Talent Development in Ball Sports – where are the hotspots in the world?

I thought I would put together this short blog post as a way of stimulating some discussion around the topic of talent development/expertise in ball sports. Specifically, as you will see from evidence below, why a certain region in the world has become a “hotspot” for producing top players/teams in ball sports when compared with the landscape at the turn of the century.

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Goalkicking Webinar Recording

See below for the recording of a webinar that Stuart Lierich (, @kickcoaching) and I (Mark Upton) ran recently on developing set-shot goalkicking proficiency in Australian Rules Football.

Note there are practice/learning concepts covered based on Skill Acquisition research/principles that are applicable to many “self-paced” aiming/shooting skills such as soccer/hockey penalties, rugby conversion/penalties, basketball free throws and many others.

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From practice sessions to the real match – expert insights into transfer & learning

The concept of using a game-based approach in practice is far from new or groundbreaking in Coaching and/or Physical Education. Yet the uptake continues to be modest, as the socio-cultural influence of the “traditional” approach (isolated technique drills and high volume of instructions) is extremely strong.

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Developing Decision Making & Game Intelligence – Conference Recording

About a month ago I had the privilege of being invited to be a Keynote speaker at the Global Sportstec Innovation Conference in Las Vegas.

It was a great event with some wonderful speakers and sessions. The highlight was the opportunity to discuss and learn from others in attendance who realised the value in sharing and being open-minded to other sports and new methods.

Sportstec took the great initiative to record these sessions so they could be shared with a wider audience. My session recording is below, entitled “Pushing the Boundaries: Developing Decision Making & Game Intelligence”. The major themes of the session included…

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Upcoming Webinars – Developing Set Shot Goalkicking

I have teamed up with Stuart Lierich ( to run a series of FREE webinars (online seminars/meetings) around developing Australian Rules players set-shot goalkicking prowess. We will be sharing an “evidenced-based approach”, stemming from our practical experiences in conjunction with the latest skill acquisition research and theory. The content is relevant for those involved with youth player development all the way through to AFL.

We are running the webinar 3 times across a couple of weeks to give everyone the maximum opportunity to attend. They will run for about 40 minutes, with half that time devoted to discussion/Q&A with people attending. They are completely free to attend – no strings attached.

Below are the dates and times for each one (AUSTRALIAN EASTERN STANDARD TIME) – click on the link for more information and to register. There is a limit on the number of attendees so if this does interest you please make sure you register.

Monday September the 9th @ 8pm -

Wednesday September the 11th @ 8pm -

Tuesday September the 17th @ 8pm -

Look forward to having you involved!

Off Field Learning Spaces

Recent posts have focused on designing on-field practice sessions in order for players to acquire the perceptual, cognitive and motor skills needed in team sports. Today we take a slightly different approach by looking at the design of off-field learning environments for players (without venturing into the online environment – I’ll leave that for another post).

Last week I spoke at a conference regarding the use of video technology for developing players decision making and game intelligence. Whilst I have seen some great applications of video for this purpose they are generally the exception rather than the norm. Apparently some eyebrows were raised when I questioned the efficacy of using video in the manner and type of environments seen below…

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The Thinking Coach – Coaching Science Article

Recently I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr Jodi Richardson (@jrsportsci) for an article in the July 10 issue of Inside Football magazine.

The article looks at the need for modern-day coaches to understand and incorporate principles from “coaching science” (which I identified as including Skill Acquisition, Performance Analysis & Performance Psychology). By doing this they can significantly enhance the development of both player and team performance, particularly long-term.

It was an absolute honour to be quoted in the same article as legendary AFL coach David Parkin, who contributed his thoughts as well.

You can check out the article below….

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Practice Design – give something to get something

This is a follow-up to last weeks blog post where we considered the impact and value of perception-action coupling in terms of skill development of team sport players.

In this post we continue on that theme by looking at the challenge coaches face in terms of designing activities/tasks in practice that have this coupling (more “representative” of a real game), versus doing high repetition of isolated technique work (less “representative”).

We introduce a “4-corner matrix” to help coaches plan/review practices so that they can optimise long-term player development.

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