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Deliberate Practice

How to Have Great Practices

It’s not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it’s what you put into the practice.” ~ Hockey player Eric Lindros

”John Wooden warned against mistaking activity for achievement.

Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, was pointing out the difference between just doing something and doing the right thing in the right way.

Some coaches unlock the equipment and set up the drills, thinking this somehow makes the team better. It doesn’t. Effective practices involve much more than players just running around working up a sweat.

Without the following three elements, no team or athlete can improve to potential:

First, the fundamentals must remain strong. Sloppy repetitions are as bad or worse than none. As we discussed a few days ago, small flaws in technique can quickly grow into big ones. The bigger the mechanical flaw, the harder it becomes to fix.

Second, there must be feedback from the coach. Feedback is information about past performance that can help future performance. Feedback needn’t be all bad; in fact it shouldn’t be. When the athletes are doing something right, coaches should say so! Dr. Carl McGown, two-time NCAA championship volleyball coach, says, “Coach the heck out of your kids!”

Third, there should be some way to measure what has gone on. When the athletes go home, they should carry something more than a vague sense of “it was a good practice,” or “we didn’t do too good.”

Did they get better? If so, in what way? Are they faster? Do they have a higher average or percentage? What do they need to work on?

By constantly insisting on strong technique, by giving the athletes feedback on their performance, and by providing data on their progress, coaches can move their practices from the realm of the ordinary to the realm of the extra-ordinary.


One comment for “How to Have Great Practices”

  1. The great thing is that the process of teaching strong “technique” and giving good feedback doesn’t have to be restricted to purely physical technique, even though that’s very important. You can also design drills that strengthen “awareness” of field position, how to control the speed of a game, how to dig deep in the last five minutes and so on. These mental exercises, which are a kind of visualization, are crucial to improved performance.

    Posted by Peter Hirsch | April 22, 2009, 7:26 am

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