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Deliberate Practice

A Practice Dilemma

If it’s true that you play the way you practice, then it’s no wonder that NFL players are missing tackles. They don’t practice it.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. According to a story by the Associated Press, players actually practice NOT making tackles. Teams don’t want their ball-carriers to be roughed up, and so during practice the would-be tacklers move in and then pull back at the last moment.

Since motor programs are specific — and practice should be as game-like as possible — then practicing to miss in practice could easily carry over to games.

Trouble is, how do you practice tackling without injuring your own players? A tackling dummy will provide a target, but a tackling dummy doesn’t cut, spin and change direction the way a real ball-carrier does.

This dilemma raises the question of what is the best way to practice in any given sport. For instance, baseball teams take batting practice every day against pitchers who make the ball as easy as possible to hit. They throw it straight and predictably, even though in games batters face pitchers with overwhelming speed and bewildering curves.

When the Soviet Union’s national hockey team began showing up for exhibitions in North America in the 1970s, they put a new kind of warmup on display. While the North American players would simply come out and skate and shoot, the Soviets warmed up with more focus and purpose to their drills.

It all comes down to transfer. If you’re going to take the time and effort to practice, you want as much of that time and effort to transfer into effective game play.

Right now, at least for some NFL tacklers, that isn’t happening.


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