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Deliberate Practice

Competition in Practice

Three factors — the NHL’s recent Winter Classic, the cold wave in the Northeast, and a conversation with mental toughness guru Craig Sigl — made me think of the Canadian game of shinny.

Shinny is a simple variation of ice hockey in which one player tries to keep the puck, and all the others try to get it away from him.

There was a time when all Canadian boys played it because it was so easy to start a game. All you needed was ice, a puck and sticks. Nowadays, I’m not so sure how many people play it, because organized leagues start at such a young age.
Sigl and I were talking about practice, and how important it is to make sure that athletes compete not only in games but in the hours that lead up to it. Shinny is a simple form of competition: you have to learn to keep the puck or you will lose it. In trying to hold the puck or capture it, players are developing their skills and their competitive instincts. It’s a basic form of deliberate practice.

While waiting to give a talk in Minnesota last summer, I was two athletes practicing on a basketball court. Each player would shoot a three-point shot and a layup. If both shots went in, the player got to try again. If one shot missed, it was the other player’s turn.

It was a brilliantly designed practice in which both players got to work on important skills.

On the playgrounds of New York, this principle is on display in the simple basketball ritual of “I’ve got winner.” If you win, you stay. If you lose, you leave the court and wait the next turn. It’s a way to force people to either improve or leave the court all the time.

Whatever sport you’re coaching, work hard to use competition in practice. It will help develop what North Carolina women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance calls that “wonderful practice intensity.”

I wonder how many of the players in the Winter Classic ever played shinny. And I wonder, with the temperature at 13 degrees while I write this, how many young people are playing it right now!

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TotalGamePlan offers Winner’s Workshops for schools, sports teams and businesses. The emphasis is on motivation, skill-building and teamwork. To bring a Winner’s Workshop to your group, just email coachtully@totalgameplan.com or call (973) 800-5836.


2 comments for “Competition in Practice”

  1. Coach,
    I played shinny in the frigid cold of Canada. Many degrees below 13. The last player standing, every time? Skill is important, as you cite above, but in the shinny I played the champ was the one wearing skates one to two sizes too big, in order to fit three layers of socks — thereby avoiding toe frostbite !!

    Posted by Larry | January 5, 2012, 1:42 am
  2. I actually found this more enteritniang than James Joyce.

    Posted by Lele | January 25, 2012, 2:00 pm

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