Don Shula embraces a principle called “overlearning.”
Incidentally, Tony Dungy embraces this same principle.
Overlearning is when an individual learns the fundamentals so thoroughly that he/she can perform them without thinking.
For instance, I don’t have to think about how to brush my teeth… because I have learned so well. What that means is that I can do a wonderful job of brushing my teeth while also thinking about something else.
Shula and Dungy both focused on teaching their teams the basics so well that when it came time to perform them they could do it without thinking twice about it. This leaves room for dealing with the unexpected obstacles and opportunities that come along.
Shula says, “Because I know that perfection only happens when the mechanics are automatic, I insist on overlearning.”
So how does the process of overlearning take place?
Here’s Don Shula:
“You play at the level of your practice. The best way is to practice hard all the time. I am convinced that coaches and players both must know that the overlearning system works. That means they must understand all four components of it:
- Limit the number of goals.
- Make people master their assignments.
- Reduce players practice errors.
- Strive for continuous improvement.
Essentially it comes down to this… pick a few things and practice them until you can do them with no thought. Then practice some more.
In time you’ll be able to do the basics plus more… just like brushing your teeth and contemplating a big decision you’ve got to make later in the day!