The first weekend of the men’s NCAA tournament is over. Sixteen teams remain to compete for the national title. One team that won’t be there, despite having hopes of going deep into the tournament, is Creighton. The BlueJays ran into the stifling defense of Baylor, losing badly by 30 points. It was the final game of senior Doug McDermott, son of coach Greg McDermott.
But what a career that Doug had. McDermott finished his career ranked fifth in NCAA history with 3,150 points, passing the likes of Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson. Doug’s offensive skills are fun to watch in action. He has a real feel for the game and for what shot or move would be most successful in any game situation. How did he get so good?
There are two things that Doug has done over the years that I would highlight: deliberate practice and visualization.
(1) Deliberate Practice. As prolific a scorer as Doug is, he had the opportunity to enter the NBA draft twice, had he chosen to leave college early. Instead, he decided to stay and work on his weaknesses:
McDermott has turned down the chance to go pro early twice, while adding different dimensions to his game. He’s improved his in-between game. The 6-8 forward is hitting his fadeaway jumper more consistently. He’s added to his post play. He’s worked on his defense and lateral movement. He honed skills and grew his confidence last summer alongside NBA stars at a Team USA mini-camp. ~ Nicole Auerbach, 3-12-14, USA Today Sports
Deliberate practice involves
- rigorous skills assessment
- repetitive performance of skills
- specific feedback
- discovering one’s weaknesses, and working deeply on those
- good planning skills (organize work in a structured way)
- concentration/dedication (high levels of focus)
- self reflection (ability to self-regulate learning)
As you can see, this is an intense process and one that takes high levels of motivation. It is done in the context of getting critical feedback throughout the process, something perhaps made easier by the fact that Doug was always around basketball with his father as a coach (and as his coach at Creighton).
(2) Ability to get into “the zone.” This zone is often talked about as a magical realm for athletes in which time slows and execution feels effortless. I think that this is probably true to some extent, but that it is less about the feelings of effortlessness and more about the feelings of being “dialed in” — having unshakable focus.
A recent article in Sports Illustrated (March 17) described Doug’s ability to get into the zone as connected to his work with Jack Stark, an Omaha-based sport psychologist. According to the article, McDermott and Stark would have a mental preparation session before every game. This session would include a hypnotic induction, deep relaxation, and guided imagery.
McDermott arrives at a beach. There, he removes the clutter from his mind — the anxiety of game day, the pressure of carrying an offense for a top 10 team — and puts its in a box, on a raft, and pushes into the blue water. The tide carries it away.
Hypnosis opens the mind to suggestion, so stark begins refilling McDermott’s with positive past experiences, reminders of times when the points came easy. Stark guides him through that day’s game. He covers how McDermott will deal with defenses and make winning plays.
The visualization session is quite active, as you can see. It is not just about relaxing before a game. Mental preparation should include seeing how one will respond to changes in the competition; how one will react and respond with composure. This type of visualization is practiced routinely at the highest levels of competition.
Doug McDermott: Best wishes as you begin playing at the next level. You’ve given college basketball fans a lot to enjoy and respect over the years. And a lesson for the rest of us striving to improve in various areas of our lives.