Debbie Fiske, Director of Athletics
If you were to ask student-athletes what they enjoy most about playing a sport, the word “Practices” probably wouldn’t be at the top of their lists. But in fact, rigorous and regular practice provides the foundation for the success of any athlete or sports team. As sports psychologist Jim Taylor recently wrote, “Whatever you do in practice is what you will do in a competition.”
While practices may not be as exciting or enjoyable as games and matches, they can provide the satisfaction of learning and improving skills, forging bonds with your teammates, and developing the physical and mental discipline to excel in competition. Practice may not always make perfect, but it always makes players and teams better. And, yes, it can also be fun.
What benefits do practices provide and how can athletes get the most out of practice? Here are six points to consider:
- Embrace the Drill
Most athletes don’t enjoy drills, which usually involve the repetition of specific skills such as ball-handling, passing or shooting. But performing these routines imbeds these movements, techniques, and dexterities into your muscle memory. They become habits so that during actual competitions they feel so natural that you can execute them without even thinking. This allows you to focus your attention on larger concepts like tactics and positioning.
- Second Stringers Rule
Athletes who aren’t first-string players often make their most important contributions to the team, not in games, but in practice, where they provide intense and high-caliber competition for the team’s starters. This sharpens the skills not only of the top players but of their understudies as well, thus making the whole team better.
- Know Why You’re Doing It
Players should always try to understand why they’re practicing a certain skill or maneuver. Coaches will usually make this plain to their teams, but players should ask for clarification if they’re unsure. Knowing the purpose of a practice makes it more bearable, meaningful and productive.
- Hard Practices Forge Team Spirit
Challenging or grueling practices not only build strength and endurance, but they also create a bond among team members. Like basic training in the military, suffering with your teammates through the pain and fatigue of a hard practice produces not only gripes and groans but also an intense shared experience that boosts morale and creates the feeling of “We can get through anything together!”
- Practice Offers a Chance to Experiment
Because the stakes are much lower in practices, players and coaches have the opportunity to try new strategies and maneuvers. Players can improvise and take risks, and if these experiments don’t work, it’s a no-harm, no-foul situation. This novelty brings a sense of fun to practice, and these experiments often produce breakthrough plays or strategies that help win games.
- Support Your Teammates in Practice
Most of us associate cheering with games, but it’s also important to show support and encouragement for your teammates during practices. A pat on the back, a high-five, or a simple “Nice job!” not only lifts the spirits of your teammates but your own spirits as well.