Growth Mindset and Quality Practice (Part 2)
Posted by: Bill Reid | University of Denver Sport Psychology
Every athlete will spend more time practicing than actually competing. This imbalance is most extreme in younger athletes, as obligations to both club and school teams keep them on a rigorous practice schedule throughout the year. With this in mind how can we ensure that the practice time is well spent? How do we prevent fatigue and burnout in such a relentless schedule? And how can we ensure that practice is building both physical and mental resilience in our players? By pursuing quality practice, athletes and coaches can bring focused, deliberate, and productive effort to every training session.
Quality practice is more complex than the name would suggest. The planning and execution of a quality practice requires collaboration between coaches, athletes, and even caregivers to ensure that practice fosters mental, physical, and technical development. Here are three features that define a quality practice:
It is easy to get caught up in the success or failure of a season, especially in an environment as competitive as club soccer. Wins and losses are a great way to measure short-term success, but do they always reflect growth or progress towards long-term goals? They certainly can, but if a team dedicates all of their practice time to preparing for their next opponent, their skill acquisition might suffer. In the same way a team that only works on skill development might find themselves unprepared for their next match. Balancing short- and long-term goals is the first step towards quality practice, and it requires effort and planning from both athletes and coaches. If every member of the organization comes to practice knowing what they want to accomplish, how they’re going to do it, and how that effort will build towards long-term goals, practice can be a place of both growth and preparation.
Practice with a Purpose
So how will athletes and coaches decide what they want to accomplish? There are so many different skills, formations, positions, and plays to work on that it can be nearly impossible to address every objective at a high quality in a single practice. Focus on quality over quantity. In an hour and a half of practice, packing in too many skills is going to stress athletes’ attention and coaches’ patience. Practicing with a purpose calls for an emphasis on focused, quality practice of a few skills, which improves retention and reduces mental fatigue over the course of a season.
Practice Makes Permanent
We’ve all heard the phrase “practice makes perfect”, but has any team ever played a “perfect” game? If the goal of practice is perfection, we’re missing the whole point of practice. Allowing athletes to make mistakes and offering feedback to correct those errors can create a growth-oriented environment where skills can become permanent without the stress of striving for perfection. We also shouldn’t think of practice as a place where we have to “get it right”. Skill development can be a slow process, but declaring “we’re not stopping until we get it right” can lead to athletes learning the wrong things. If an athlete or team is struggling with a drill because of a lack of skill, practice can aid in the development of that skill, but if they’re struggling because of fatigue, then the mistakes could become permanent, rather than the skill.
As summer approaches, some athletes might be preparing to enter a training program or club season, which is a great opportunity to put these principles into practice! Planning an approach to training that is purposeful, goal-oriented, and embraces mistakes as growth opportunities is a great way to build a foundation for quality practice. This approach isn’t exclusive to athletic training! Anyone working to develop a new skill can benefit from adopting a focused, deliberate, and forgiving approach to practice.