In all my years of coaching I have never heard a coach say that the problem was TOO MUCH practice time. Everyone complains about not having enough time in the gym. Wishing they could get the gymnasts there earlier, stay later, didn’t miss practices due to illness or school functions.
In the end, too many coaches waste a great deal of time by not having a plan as they approach practice. Many also do things within practice that undermines their overall goal of athlete development.
I was thinking about this when I stumbled across Functional Path Training Blog. I have used a series of his blogs as an outline.
The key to getting better is practice. Up to a point when an athlete is beginning their career virtually anything they do will make them better, in fact the more they do the better they get. Then there comes a point when practice must be guided and have a specific purpose. The mantra the practice makes perfect is passé. We know that PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT. Therefore how you practice is extremely important
PRACTICE MAKER- CONSISTENCY
The first consideration in effective practice is consistency. A set routine is the basis for consistent practice. Great athletes and great teams have set routines for training that do not vary. In fact with individual athletes training routines sometimes border on ritual. Routine allows the athlete to focus on the task at hand. There is security in having a routine. Your gymnasts know what to expect. It gives an anchor point to build the training session upon. Start on time, have specific objectives and stay on task, then practice will be meaningful. The best gymnasts I worked with were the ones most consistent in workout and competitions. You did not need a watch to tell what time it was, when they showed up to training it was 2:30 PM for afternoon workouts! They came in went to the same spot on the floor and did their own stretching until it was time for our organized warm up. We did the same warm-up, and it hardly ever varied. It did not matter if it was hot or cold we did the same thing. When we went to competitions we followed the same routine. There is a powerful message here, find a routine that works and live by it. As coaches we need to set routines for our athletes, we need to teach young developing athletes the necessity of routine as part of their daily preparation. When I change training cycles my first objective is always routine. As training cycles change routines sometimes have to change, so having it as an up front object underscores it’s importance.
PRACTICE MAKER- REPETITION
Repetition is the mother of learning. We are what we repeatedly do. I doubt anyone would argue with those points. The task then becomes to carefully choose what we repeat. It is necessary to have a clear idea of the technical model you wish to achieve and a plan to achieve the desired technique. We know that practice makes permanent so repeating incorrect or flawed movements will ingrain the faults. It is very important to fit the technique to the person not the person to the technique. Certainly more is not better. Quality is the goal and quality is a measure of perfect. Therefore the ultimate goal of repetition in training is mastery. To achieve mastery demands progression, from easy to hard and simple to complex.
Practice Maker – Refinement
Refinement is fine tuning the practice after the basic technical model has been mastered. Often we are in a hurry and try to do this too early in the process and the whole technical model erodes. Refinement does not have to pertain to just technique or skill it also can refer to development of physical qualities. Keep in mind that every group you have will be slightly different and every gymnast will have their own needs. Start with the BIG PICTURE then refine as they get older. Simply – refinement follows repetition in the development of the athlete.
Practice Breaker – Laps OR conditioning as punishment.
Here are two of my favorites: “Let’s go – take 10 laps around the floor and then we will get started with training.” “If you miss this flight series then you will have to climb the rope.” Think about it, you see this all the time at all levels of our sport, talk about a practice killer! Practice time is precious; it is a daily opportunity to improve skill, tactics and sport specific fitness, and wasting time slogging laps to “warm-up” or extra rope for punishment does not optimize the opportunity to improve. It does nothing to make the athlete better and a lot to make them tired and diminish motivation. Be creative how you start practice what you do to start practice sets the tempo for the practice. Start with a brief explanation of the days practice and then do something that is meaningful and mindful to get them into the practice. The same with mindless stretching for a cooldown, do something that will set-up tomorrows training session. Make what you do meaningful and motivational; every step of practice should be directed to making the athlete better.
I understand that everything in the gym should have consequences and sometimes those consequences will have a physical nature to them. BUT make them specific. – If you hit your feet on floor after a clear hip circle, You need to go and do 3 back extension rolls to push up holding the correct position.
Practice Breaker – Lectures
Starting practice with a long lecture is a surefire way to ruin the training session. Coaches are good at talking and love to talk, but the start of practice is not the time and place. Recognize that the athletes are there to train, not to listen to a lecture. My rule of thumb is no more that 2 minutes of talking that consists of very specific instructions pertaining to the training session. We know how long we can hold someone’s attention – not long – so use that knowledge. Make it short, sharp filled with action words that are directed to the desired actions during the training session. It should be information rich and positive. If you don’t know what to say then don’t say anything. Think of it this way: Know your point, make your point, stay on point and summarize with a clear call to action based on the points of emphasis. Coaches like to talk, that does mean you should.
Some of the best advice I got early in my career was to remember that we have two eyes, two ears and one mouth for a reason. Watch and listen more and talk less.
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