5 Ways to ACTUALLY Get Better at Practice
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
As a coach I can’t articulate how frustrating it is to put together a practice plan, show up to run a practice, and just watch a bunch of athletes go through the motions with no fire, intensity, or desire to push themselves.
Whenever I see this happen my first move is to stop the practice, and immediately explain the importance and real-life application of the drill or focus of the practice. I think as coaches we often forget to tell/show our athletes how to connect point A to point B to point C and so on and so forth. So it is on us to make sure that we are communicating this to our players. On the flip side, athletes, you want to get the most you can out of each and every practice.
Here are some ways you can make each practice more effective:
Thinking Bigger Picture
Why do we even practice? This seems like a trivial question, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked this to a player and they can’t give me a straight answer. “To get better.” Okay, that’s valid, but why do we want to get better?
Everything we do in practice ultimately translates to a game. (Or at least in theory it does.) Keeping this fact in mind, regardless of the simplicity of a drill, will help you improve on fundamental components of your game. For instance, a 1 v 1 ground ball drill seems a little redundant, however, the repetitions of that drill build the muscle memory of how to pick up a ground ball under pressure. Now, how does that translate to a game? Instead of thinking about the actual act of picking up that ground ball, the muscle memory kicks in and you are able to think about your next move (your outlet pass, dodging your defender, or your shot selection).
The Takeaway: Think Bigger Picture, try to think about how and why every drill is important, and understand how every drill relates to a full-blown game.
Make Everything Game Like
There is no such thing as half-speed in a game, so unless you are walking through a drill for technique purposes, you should be going game speed. Think about your 100% and what that means for you. (This is different for everyone) Now, let’s go back to my ground ball example from before. If you have only practiced picking up ground balls at 75% of your max speed, you’ve technically never practiced a ground ball at your game pace. How do you expect to be able to pick up ground balls effectively and consistently if you’ve never practiced them at the same rate at which you will be going in a game?!
I know this seems trivial, but I’m honestly astonished at how many of my athletes do not make this connection on their own.
The Takeaway: Every time you step up to take a rep at practice, play out that rep as if it were a game situation. You’ll get more accurate reps and the muscle memory that you build will be more accurate.
Communicate with Your Teammates
No one is a mind reader, including your coach, and this is a skill that is not only overlooked, but it’s not something that comes naturally to most players. It takes time and PRACTICE to not only get comfortable but to also excel with communication.
Now, there are two types.
On Field Communication is the first. You have to be DIRECT. There is never time in a game for a “please” or a question.
“Hey Suzie, could you please slide to the open girl.” – Not going to cut it. In the time it takes to ask Suzie to do this, the other team has found the open player and probably scored.
Instead we say, “Suzie, slide left and pick up two.” This is not only more efficient, but you’ve essentially made the decision for Suzie, and now she only has to do what she is told.
The more effective and direct we can be in our communication the better. This also aids a team in understanding the way each other thinks. This is extremely beneficial in building team chemistry.
The second type of communication, but equally important, is articulating to your coach or teammates when you have a question or don’t understand something.
It’s important to be able to ask questions when you don’t understand, simply so that you can find a solution and execute accordingly. But also because your teammates may or may not have a similar question and not even know it. The more open and transparent we can be with each other, the less margin we have for error or miscommunication on the field.
The Takeaway: Speak up in practice, both with your teammates and your coach. It’s imperative that both players and coaches are able to communicate with each other directly and effectively.
Challenge inspires growth. You always want to be continually challenging yourself. It’s important that when you are going through drills that you are going against people who are equal to or even BETTER THAN you are. This forces you to go hard, and always gives you an opportunity to gauge where you are and what part(s) of your game need work. It also gives you the opportunity to learn YOUR strengths, and you naturally will gravitate towards those. IF consistently challenged, you will teach yourself how to stay composed and play to YOUR strengths when playing against an opponent that might be of a higher skill.
The Takeaway: Make sure that you are going against people in practice who will challenge you. Have your teammates hold you accountable for being the best player you can be.
Do the Uncomfortable/Trying New Things
It’s practice. No one is expecting you to be perfect. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is a time when you should be pushing yourself and trying new things. It’s impossible to master a skill without failing at it first at least a few times. I tell every girl that I work with that every skill in lacrosse takes at least 1001 reps just to start to get comfortable. Practice time is the place to do this. Dabble with new ways to pass, like give that left hand a few reps, for example. Or maybe try that behind the back shot you’ve been working on in the backyard now that you’ll have some defense.
Again, challenge yourself by trying new things. This is how you add to your bag of tricks and become a more versatile player.
The Takeaway: You’ll never be good at the things you don’t try.
These all may seem trivial, but anytime you catch yourself just “going through the motions” challenge yourself with these 5 tips to get the most out of each and every one of your practices!