Fill in the blank. Practice makes _______. Perfect? Permanent? Prepared? (It doesn't have to start with a P).
Then the autocorrect – practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect. Enough already. Practice is a necessary evil.
Not many people really like practice; it’s okay to admit it. At the very least, I’d submit that it’s consensus among players, coaches, and parents – I mean everybody – that they would rather just play and skip practice. The sentiment applies to working out, too. Yet, that is what separates competition from recreation.
Much is written and spoken about practice. King Sports Training exists to help parents and coaches prepare athletes to compete at the best of their ability. Allow me to provide my input on some of the pros about practice so we can understand why it’s important.
I’m sure most of our audience is familiar with the famous - or infamous - rant by the Hall of Fame NBA player Allen Iverson (A.I.), who ‘went off’ about practice. If not, you need to watch the interview to gain context for his comments, or at least, for a frame of reference for what I’m talking about. The reason I bring it up is because at that level, the level of the athletic outliers, the rules are the same, but different, if you know what I mean.
If A.I. missed a practice, or if Tom Brady misses a practice, there’s a good chance it won’t be a big setback. NFL injury reports on mid-week days, like Wednesdays, often feature an off day for certain vested veterans. I know that at all levels, players sit out of practice from time to time for health reasons. In the post-COVID era, it’s easier to excuse somebody who is experiencing certain health symptoms. Even “personal reasons” is acceptable for absences as we understand the need for proper prioritization with sports and life.
Similar to nutrition where I preach that your all-of-the-time habits are more important than your some-of-the-time habits, like a cheat meal, missing a practice or missing a workout should not make or break an athlete. No different than the “rainy day” protocol where sometimes life happens. You have to live to fight another day. You should be more concerned with routine consistency.
With the above being said, I want you to value practice just like I want you to value training.
Practice is where you learn systems–systems of offense, defense, and for some sports, special teams. It’s where you implement and install. It’s where your athletes become more aware of situational scenarios and other strategic schemes.
Repetition is key. You lather, rinse, and repeat so much that your players know their stuff inside and out. Training is the same. When it becomes second-nature, the program is efficient and produces results.
Practice, particularly in season, accounts for an opponent, by virtue of a scouting report, ideally informing you of what you’re up against. In essence, you are preparing for that particular opponent, with your teammates. You are practicing what the real game may, or may not, be like.
Practice can even involve substitution scenarios. This reminds me of a time in my first year as the head coach of a varsity football team.
We were short on talent with a young program. We were basically playing with one star player, our only tight end who was the center of our offensive scheme. He didn’t come off the field. Except for the time that he did…
After a play, I noticed he was walking way too awkwardly; we eventually found out he had torn his ACL. I told my assistant coach to sub in for him. He said, “I don’t have another tight end.” Duh! But the worst case scenario had happened and he had gotten hurt. So we only had ten men and in football you play with eleven.
I grabbed the closest player with the closest number, told him to get John out of the game, line up at tight end and block the guy in front of him. We barely got the [unsuccessful] play off, avoiding a penalty. Turned out to be a loss of five yards either way.
The moral of the story is, I should have practiced the scenario where our TE1 got hurt, even though I was hoping it would never happen.
I use American football as my reference since I was both a player and coach at several levels, but the same applies for any team sport. You have your field or court (or pool) dimensions. You have your rule book. Get your imagination turned up. Prepare for the worst-case scenarios, but also be creative to generate best-case scenarios.
All that said, a coach needs to communicate with his staff and players. If you caught any of HBO’s “Hard Knocks with the Detroit Lions”, Dan Campbell is the perfect example. He communicated what they were all about, including what their practices needed to be all about.
Coaches use white boards and expo markers to draw up plays now, but in the old days of black boards and chalk, we had a saying, “the coach with the chalk last–wins.” That means, you can draw up the sure-fire play on offense, but if I have the chalk last, I can draw up a defense to stop it. Therefore, you take your ideas to the field, or court, and run against the scout team and see if the white board works, then fix it or perfect it.
Wrapping up, here are five tips that encapsulate my thoughts on practice.
1. Plan the work and work the plan. Practice needs to be well-organized and well-executed.
2. Stick to the schedule. If it doesn't work, make it for the next session. No more “run it until you get it right.”
3. Review needs for certain days. Like training, think in terms of how the practice relates to the competition schedule. What do you need on Tuesdays or what do you need three days out from competition as opposed to the day before.
4. Majorly adjust. I have sent a team in before the scheduled end of practice, because absolutely nothing was working. They begged to stay out and get it right, thinking I was mad. In reality, I was saving all of us from each other. Go home, take a break, and get it right tomorrow. Trust me.
5. Keep the prize in mind. Practice is only useful if you, your players and staff, believe it will result in a win or a championship.
Practice. Keep that championship win in mind.-CBK