We’re Still Talking About Practice!
Written By Pablo Matos,CSCS
The more I coach, the more I continue to learn and better understand how athletes move. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that mastering basic movement skills is crucial to athletic performance. Learning, practicing, and mastering a simple skill can completely transform an athlete’s performance. For example, teach an athlete with minimal training experience how to perform a hinge pattern and you have opened a Pandora’s box of movement for that athlete. The hinge will now allow them to better understand how to jump, stop, and change direction. This, in a sense, is motor skill acquisition.
But the hinge is only the seed to mastering that skill.
To truly get better at a skill. You have to perform that skill over and over, in as many variations of it, until it becomes habitual.
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”- Aristotle
Recently, I just finished reading through The Power of Habit, And let me tell you, it was phenomenal! One of the many great concepts Duhigg talks about in his book is the habit loop, and it’s ability to reform a habit. In a nutshell, the habit loop consists of a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue triggers a certain habit. Routine reinforces the habit. Reward motivates the craving for that habit to continue to be reinforced. Take someone who picks up running. Their cue to go running could be seeing the shoes at the door. Their routine is the run. The reward can be a runner’s high or the satisfaction of finishing the run. Eventually this cycle becomes habitual.
By the way, if you haven’t read this… You totally should!
This habit loop is highly beneficial. We all do it without thinking about it. We do drills as our routine and our reward is better performance. However, any skill performed improperly or poorly can become an unwanted habit. QUALITY OVER QUANTITY FOLKS! Once it becomes a habit, we can then make the routine or drill more complex. This continual progression allows an athlete to master the skill with its different variations, which is the key to owning that skill. To become better at this, athlete’s must simply do one thing: practice.
With anything you do, if you want to get better at it. Guess what? You actually have to perform that skill! Continual practice will allow it to occur automatically. The more automatic it becomes, the more it allows the skill to improve efficiency of movement, precision, and minimize the time to perform the skill. Take a professional hitter for example. They can hit 90+ MPH fastballs any given day, and twice on Sundays. They can do this because they have practiced a specific skill, hitting, for years. It has become habitual for them. Now take any regular Joe, and their chances of hitting an elite level fastball are about one in a million…
Therefore, you could say practice makes perfect, to an extent. There are always individuals like Allen Iverson who break this trend. Saying he wasn’t a fan of “practice” is probably the understatement of the year. That being said, he was a once in a generation type of athlete.
So how does this happen?
To borrow a quote from Coach Mark Watts, “if we are born with better hardware, our software will be utilized more efficiently“, you can check out the rest of his post, Here! The hardware, in this statement, is our genetics. Whereas the software, is our practices and experiences. Allen Iverson may have been born with the ability to learn and utilize skills better than most. However, even if it was easier for him to access those skills. Whether he knew it or not, he was habitually getting better at improving those skills in some way, shape, or form throughout his life.
Therefore, one way to become a better athlete is to become extraordinarily good at performing fundamental skills, building upon those skills, and using them often. In other words, Practice.