From the Coach's Corner: How to Practice Jul 2, 2014

By Tom Curry

When I was coaching basketball, students would tell me how hard they had practiced over the summer, and each day in the fall, in preparation of trying out for the team. Even the parents got in the act with one father telling me that his son practiced everyday in their driveway. "Why coach, there are some nights when he even beats me!," the proud dad said. My initial thought was , "Great...as soon as we play games in your driveway we will be set!." Of course I didn't say that to the dad. Sarcastic...yes it was! But the point of the story was that while that practice helped, it wasn't helping the kid improve the skills he would really need to compete and play on the varsity level. It was more of a practice of convenience. Yes, he worked on shooting, but with no one guarding him, shots are a lot easier to get off and easier to make. In golf, we call those folks "Range Pros". They hit ball after ball working on perfecting their swing. The lie is always perfect with the ball sitting up nicely almost begging to be struck perfectly. However, the game of golf is not played on the range. The wind blows on the golf course. The lies are not always even or flat. There are uphill and downhill shots. Shots over trees and water are part of the game. Side hill and slippery putts also exist. In other words, while practicing at the range is better than no practice at all, there are some things that you just have to go and work on at different times and in different ways. To neglect that aspect of practice is to really set yourself or your child up for disappointment and failure.

Set Small Goals

The first and most important part of practice is to set small goals and objectives for each session. While I was a teaching golf professionally and in my golf classes that I teach at the local junior college, we try to set only two or three objectives for each class. It is just impossible to practice everything. For example, in our first class each semester, we work on the grip, set-up and swing basics. If the student has a good understanding of those three things after the first class, we have met our objective and have a chance to succeed. It takes time to talk about, help and demonstrate the basics of the golf swing. I believe that if we can establish a proper sequence of fundamentals, the student will have a definite chance to learn a basic and sound golf swing. You have to start with the fundamentals of the game. If the fundamentals are established well, the student has a chance to be successful and actually build a swing that can repeat itself over and over.

Make Practice as Realistic as Possible

As a coach I tried to create practices that were divided into three parts. Individual skills were usually the first part of the practice. Since the basics had to be improved and worked on every single practice session, it was an integral part of every practice session to pay attention to and work on individual skills. Whether it was ball handling, dribbling, passing or shooting, offensive skills needed the time and effort to enhance the player's individual skills, which would then adapt into a better team game.

We then would move to team skills. Team offense and defense, basic movements as a team and improved understanding of what we were trying to do was the second objective of every practice. Lastly, we would go over preparation for an upcoming opponent. This would occur during the actual season, while in the pre-season we worked on teaching a team offense or defense that we would need during the season. We went from drill to drill without a great deal of explanation. We kept the pace quick and tried to incorporate conditioning through the practice, instead of waiting until the end of the practice session. The practices were never longer than two hours and we thought about what we needed to accomplish beforehand and tried to work on two or three things at each practice. As a parent and maybe a new volunteer coach, it's good to keep that in mind. Sharp drills that teach are much better than trying to "talk" kids through skills. These days learning a new drill and how to teach a skill may be as simple as going on the internet. It's best to avoid the "I was taught this way" syndrome. Coaches should always be open to new ideas and better ways to teach skills and team play.

Practice makes Permanent

Many of you may remember the term "Practice makes perfect". That is not really an accurate description of what happens. "Practice makes permanent" might be a better description. Practice poor technique over and over and you will have poor technique. While repetition is still the key to knowledge and skill acquisition, that repetition should be sound with regard to proper techniques and fundamentally sound ideas.

Make it Fun!

Practice should also be fun! That may sound funny to some, but sports are about play and play is about fun. If practice is all work, the individual or team won't look forward to practicing. Little challenges or games during practice sessions often break up the monotony of skill session or team drills. We used to play "10 baskets" in practice, which was a fast game with two players against two other players. Alternating shots from the free throw area, the first team to make 10 baskets won. Meanwhile, the game was teaching teamwork, passing, shooting and helping our players learn to shoot with a quicker release and a proper footwork sequence. The kids loved it and it was a good break one, two, or even three times during practice. We didn't do it every day, but did make it a large part of our weekly practice schedules.

So whether it's your child asking to practice individually or you, the parent, starting out coaching your first youth team sport, hopefully keep some of these things in mind to make those practice sessions meaningful and worthwhile. Remember..."Practice makes Permanent"!

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