If you want to reminisce and listen to Allen Iverson talk about "Practice, man!" then feel free to just scroll down to the bottom and click on the link. But, if you want to read my thoughts on "practice" as I am no longer coaching, then please feel free to continue reading.
I'll be honest, I miss practice. I miss the speed, the volume in the gym, the intentionality and the progress that was made each day. I loved competing on Game Day for sure. But practice I think is what got me ramped up, because it was prepping us to compete.
I have another confession; I can barely stand to watch practice anymore. Some of that might have to do because I'm mostly only exposed to me kids lacrosse practices and those are hard to watch for lots of reasons. But I think it applies to volleyball as well. Whenever I'm in the gym I find myself talking with parents and other coaches more than I find myself watching practice. I think I am so disengaged with practice right now because I'm not immersed in it. I'm not planning practice and nor am I really responsible for the training that goes on during that time. Maybe it's for those reasons that practices tend to feel really slow to me and many times I'm trying to figure out how a specific "drill" really applies to the game or how it's making the team better. I'm sure that lots of coaches would have had the same thoughts running through their heads if they were to watch some of my practices back in the day.
I think that my biggest issue when it comes to watching practices is the accountability of the skills and training. Take for instance a coach holding their arms above their head to imitate a blocking move and then rotating their shoulders forward to show the athlete they need to press. I think that if you were to spend a day at a qualifier you would see this at least 100 times from coaches all over the country. The problem here is that if we are having to imitate the movement for our players during a match in one of the biggest weekends of the season, then we probably haven't done a good enough job teaching them the skill. Athletes, I think for the most part, can only be held accountable to the skills and situations that they have been taught and learned. Sometimes you have to teach them and other times you might have to get them to unlearn something before they can learn the thing you are trying to teach them. But I think as coaches we should make sure that the things we are talking or yelling about on game-day are the same things we are putting on our practice plan each week.
I should point out that even though we do work on some things a lot, it doesn't always show. I remember the day after a basketball game in which the team shot roughly 40% from the free-throw line, the coach said that "I know it doesn't look like we practice free-throws...but we really do." Sometimes in sports things just don't go your way.
I think that as coaches and athletes we can just go through the motions during practice and forget what the purpose really is. It's something that we have to constantly remind ourselves before, during and after our time in the gym. I think it's important to think about where practice is really taking you. What is the end goal of that practice and all of your teams practices? I also think it's important to think about what you are really trying to get out of your hour or two in the gym. Can you put your hand on something tangible at the end of practice that you learned or improved on?
Finally, I think it's important to create your "Why". Why are you choosing to pepper or NOT pepper with your team? Why are you choosing to do the classic butterfly drill or NOT? I think you can probably justify just about any reason you have one way or the other and that's fine. But athletes and coaches alike should be able to point to the "why" of each segment and touch in order to give the most purpose to your time in practice.
"We talking about practice, man. Not a game."
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