Practice Makes Perfect Written By Mike Adams
Why do players practice? These are some observations I have made through my years coaching on practice motivation:
To show the coach and others how good I am
To get tired running drills
To be there so I am not cut from playing the next game
To show off my new equipment
To eat sunflower seeds and drink a power drink
To find out when the next game is
If you disagree with all of the above you probably have a bright future in politics. When I get a team, one of the first things I like to spend time on is explaining what a practice is for and why it is important to understand why we practice. I use simple bullet points along with an explanation of my beliefs on why they are important. Some of these are coach based, some are player based and some apply to both. Here goes:
Show up on time for practice. As this has been mentioned in many other articles, it is not mentioned enough. When I say “on time for practice”, I don't mean show up at 5 o'clock for a 5 o'clock practice. I mean show up BEFORE 5 o'clock with enough time to hang your gear bag and start stretching and warming up. This way actual practice can start at 5. I realize some teams like to stretch and warm up together. This is fine, but to me that is not practice time and I don't count it as such. A good stretch and warm up should take no less than 15 minutes. With a 2 hour practice, that is 1/8th of the entire practice.
Know what drills are going to be worked on during that practice. This is important for both players and coaches. In todays social/internet age, there should be no reason that a practice plan should not be shared with the players and other coaches. Sidebar: if you are a coach and don't have a plan on what you are going to do during a practice at least a day before, you might want to think about why you are coaching. Coaching successfully takes work. By letting the players know what the plan for the practice will be, you spend less time explaining to the players what you want them to do and what to expect. I don't realistically expect all of my players to fully understand a drill, but they will have at least a starting point. By having to explain drills at each practice, you are losing about 5 minutes per drill. At an average of 4 drills, there goes 20 minutes. Don't forget in the drills you need to have player flow. By player flow I am referring to knowing how you will rotate players. I have been in practices where the coach spent 1 minute between each rotation to set the players where they wanted them. With 15 players, that math makes an easy 15 minutes disappear.
Incorporate multiple player drills. Single player drills are a huge big time waster and loses a players attention. Lining up girls on second base and going through each player one at a time annoys me every time I see it. 15 players, each hit takes about 5 seconds from hit, to catch, to relay, back to the hitter. That means a little over 1 minute for each player and after they are doing nothing. So each round there is ~15 player/minutes wasted. Adding another hitter and 2 lines breaks it down to ~7.5 player minutes. Having the fielding player flip it to another acting as a baseman and then the throw back in to the hitter, adds <2 seconds as players rotate into position, but the additional player cuts player down time to ~4 player/minutes wasted and adds extra practice time in the rotation. A quick change in the drill just decreased the wasted practice time per player by ~1/3.
Keeping in line with drills, I also like to put on the drill sheet the reason why the drill is being done. I can't think of one drill that is done just for the heck of it. Sure, if you are a new coach, you might do a drill because you saw someone else do it, but if you think real hard you can probably figure out what the drill is for. As a player, I also challenge you to know why a drill is done. Don't be a whining player that asks “why, why, why?”. But there is nothing wrong with asking a coach nicely, “Hey coach, is this drill supposed to help me run faster?”, or “What am I to be learning from this drill so I can concentrate on it”. A good sample of why it is important to have the players know why a drill is being done is batting from a pitching machine. Why do we bat from a machine? There are many reasons, but the 2 strongest reasons are consistency and to save the coaches arm! Consistency is the real reason. You don't want the batter to worry about watching for balls vs. strikes, or timing as much as concentrating on the other aspects like stance, follow through, direction of hit, etc… If the player didn't know this, they may think they are doing well by just hitting the ball every time rather than concentrating on the items you want to drill into them. We do a drill called “junk pitch practice”, basically they are to swing at every pitch, regardless of where it is (fyi this is at a lower level of team) and what I explain to the players is the drill is for eye hand coordination. If you swing at the same place every time, you are relying on the pitcher pitching to where your bat is. That isn't the game, and a good pitcher won't throw that way. To be successful, you need to hit where the ball is. Then I explain I don't expect them to swing at everything during a game. I have, however, seen many home runs hit from outside the strike zone.
Players should be making mistakes. Before you freak out, let me explain. Some coaches love to say give 110% percent during a game. I disagree. anything over 100% is unknown. Giving 100% is the maximum you can give, as long as you know where the line is. Practice is where I like to see players find that line. The only true way to find the line is to cross it. Cross it several times and you will be able to push that line. I find nothing funnier when someone after skiing or snowboarding boasts on how little they fell. Personally I fall A LOT and often on camera. Why? Because I push my boundaries. The first time down a black diamond on my snowboard was pretty eventful. I spent more time on my butt or rolling then I did snowboarding. The next time it was less butt time. I kept it up until I could slowly make it down without falling. So am I done? No. Making it down slowly without falling was one “line”. Next time down I increased my speed, pushing back that 100% line. Yup, more butt time. Eventually I could do it faster and better. Move it to softball, if you are an outfielder, and you can pretty much catch any popup that gets near you, it is time to move that line. Ask the coach to put the ball further and further away from you until can't catch it with any consistency. Now during a game, you know where your line is and if you can realistically catch it. During practices is where you push. Its where missing that catch is ok, as long as you are trying your hardest, and you keep trying until that ball is caught.
Learn from mistakes. Although this is also important during a game, I feel it applies during a practice as well. I tell my players that everyone makes mistakes, how a player reacts to that mistake separates good from great. I love to have drills in my arsenal that teach reacting to mistakes. A common mistake is a grounder take a weird hop (or player not paying attention) and skips by them. I don't know about you, but I see quite a few of players in a game just stand there looking at their coach or parent for that “you screwed up” stare. Mistake #1 was made as the ball got by, mistake #2 was made when nothing was done to recover. I like to line up ss and 2nd and send a ball straight to 2nd base, have them call it, go to catch it, but let it go by. Now, after the ball is passed, then make the play; who is covering 2nd? who is going after the ball? At a younger age (ok, even older) I like to practice overthrowing first. I make a very bad throw to first. Some times 1st base can catch it, sometimes not. I see a lot of teams practice ideal situations. I like to drill the bad, so they know how to react to a mistake.
Practice doesn't always make perfect. It is up to the players and the coaches to have a practice environment that pushes the players to be perfect knowing there should be, and will be mistakes along the way. For you that were keeping count, not including drink breaks, shown in the bad examples above, each player during a 2 hour practice would get less than 55 minutes of actual practice time.