What Does Great Practice Feel Like?



What’s your best practice made of? Novak Djokovic, top-ranked player in the world, gives us  a peek at his recipe. (Click ahead to 1:05 for the best moments.)  It includes:

  • 1) Smallness:  it focuses only on a few targeted qualities —  improving touch, agility, and the ability to disguise shots.
  • 2) Intensity: full-effort reaching, clear results.
  • 3) Game-ishness: this is no boring drill. It’s the opposite — a thrilling, absorbing, emotion-generating game (as the ending shows).

In other words, it’s about creating SIG — Small, Intense Games. The next question: what’s the math-class version of this? The music-lesson version? The software-coding version?

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11 Responses to “What Does Great Practice Feel Like?”

  1. Walter says:

    That was a cardio killer. I was getting tired just watching it. The “other dude” isn’t too bad either and what he is doing is somewhat not being noticed because we are paying attention to Novak.
    As for the math version of this??????? I’ll tell you what comes to mind. Being in the 4th grade when the teacher would make us stand up beside the desk of the first kid in the class. She would hold up flash cards with a multiplication question and the person that got the answer first would keep going around the room while the one that got it wrong would have to sit. We’d see which kid won the most 1vs1 battles!

  2. Terry form Olympia says:


    Great movie but I’m a little confused when you say that the game was “small” in its focus. I saw a complete, full blown game between two skilled players. I would have thouth a “small” game would have been one player against himself trying to beat his own score at hitting a ball exactly the same every time or at exactly the same spot on the court or… What am I not getting about “small” here?


  3. Great clip.

    The other word to add is competitive so it becomes SICG – Small, Intense Competitive Games.

    You don’t get a reaction like that without it being competitive against your partner or yourself.

    The competitive part is developing the mental strength factor

  4. djcoyle says:

    Thanks, Terry – I should’ve been clearer – I
    meant small in a couple senses: 1) literally — they were
    confined to a relatively tiny space, which
    gave them more reps in less time; 2) in the sense that
    the game contained only a handful of the skill elements present in a full game — no serving, no groundstrokes, no normal volleying.

  5. djcoyle says:

    Nice, Robin! I love that.

  6. Tom says:

    The juniors I work with will play that game before and/or after practice. Yes, it’s super intense and very competitive but to them it’s just plain fun. We also play a sick version of mini-tennis along with righties playing left-handed and vice versa- again, super competitive, intense, and a learning tool.

  7. Rob Anderson says:

    There’s alot of research to back this up physiologically. Small sided games or Small Intense Games as you have termed it, have been shown to produce an equal or improved training response for Heart rate and energy systems. So what could improve a skill element could also be beneficial physiologically too!

    I have seen these used in football, rugby union and rugby league… all to good effect for the physical element…

    interesting stuff

  8. Mark Upton says:

    Another important concept for sports coaches to takeaway is what is not seen – that is a coach providing explicit instruction during the activity.

    Representing a classic constraints-based model (i.e. size of area, rule that it has to be bounced over net), the environment has been designed to facilitate learning of the skills you mentioned – “the game is the teacher”.

    Many coaches still do not understand their main role is to facilitate the creation of this environment rather than being a “wealth of knowledge” to be shared via verbal instruction and guidance.

  9. Jay Godse says:

    That was awesome! I use games like these (SIG or SIGC) with soccer teams I coach when trying to develop character traits such as aggressiveness and tenacity. I have found that handball or bordenball is useful to teach positioning for passes.

    Now that you have made me conscious of this, I’ll have to figure out other games to teach other skills.

  10. Jeremy G. says:

    Playing chamber music is the equivalent for musicians.

  11. Wayne Jones says:


    Rereadng your book for the second time and enjoying it just as much when I came across your website.

    I was impressed with your take on the Tiger Woods golf ball trick and thought ‘here’s a man living his own work’ but would be interested how you apply deliberate practice to your work as a writer?

    Where is the immediate feedback loop and the skill or technique you are looking to improve able to be identified as a small target etc..


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