Practice Doesn't Make Perfect - Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Thursday, August 06, 2015

By Michael Osborne
Development Coach, Carlton Football Club

From a young age we’ve all heard the words that practice makes perfect, but practicing a bad habit over and over can drastically impede your performance on the field.

When you’re at the pinnacle of your sport, it’s the way you practice that can make you rise above the others.

When it comes to elite sport, the best players look everywhere for a competitive advantage.

One area to get this advantage is in the way we practice what we practice.  If you want your players to play the way they train then you need to get them into good habits whenever they’re out on the track.

An example of practice not making perfect is the time pre training that players usually get onto the track and have a short kick with a partner. 

A player’s lack of intent when kicking during the warm up phase of training can create bad habits.

What are the (bad) habits usually practiced here?

  • Sitting back on the kick
  • Slow kicking motion
  • 5-10m kicks

All these things on game day usually result in turnovers.

Although training this way this may be a part of them warming up, this sort of mindlessly practicing on autopilot can actually make us worse. 

So how should we be practicing?

There’s a few things we can ask ourselves about the way we train to ensure we are making steps to become better.

1. Is there a better way to do this?

Who’s the best at this particular skill and why do they do it so well

2. Am I training quality or quantity?

You may have done 1000 handballs at training this week but does 1000 handballs over 1m make you more accurate over 5m……..on the move…….under pressure?

THREE GOOD HABITS TO PRACTICE THAT AVERAGE PLAYERS DON’T DO

1. KICKING

There are a lot of different kicks you can do, none of which really require you to stand still, so when kicking in warm up, practice being on the move. 

Even if you are only going at 50%, practicing this habit of being on the move will create better balance in your kicks and prevent ‘pop’ kicks that put a team mate under pressure in games.

Being on the move when kicking during warm ups practices better habits for more effective kicking.

Create different game-like scenarios in your mind during your warm up and practice the different skills required for each one.

For example;

  • 1 step quick kick (don’t lean back on it)
  • Pulling back off the mark and moving the ball on quickly.
  • Switch kick or lateral kick.
  • Snap or around the body kick.

These are all types of kicks that players will execute on game day, so why not take the opportunity to practice them as much as possible.

By practicing simple habits like this you will become better equipped with the skills to perform under pressure.

2. OPEN STANCE 

At all levels, the more time and space you have, the easier it is to dispose of the ball effectively.

You can create more time and space for yourself by positioning your body while you are waiting to receive the ball so that you can dispose of the ball quicker and before pressure can affect your skills.

All this requires is for you to know what you are going to do with the ball when you get it.

If you use a simple square kicking drill to demonstrate ball movement from point A to B to C to D.

The player at B knows the ball is coming from A and he needs to kick it to C.

By opening their stance to C before they mark the ball, the player (B) has reduced the time it takes from catching the ball to turn around and shape up to kick the football. Once the ball is marked, the player is already facing the direction of the target and can kick the ball straight away.

In this example the player on the right has reduced the amount of work to do after catching the ball to turn and kick to C.

3. DON’T BE A WITCHES HAT 

Witches hats and cones at training should be used as guidelines. If you look at teams that are easily defended there is usually less movement and more players standing around calling for the ball. 

In the modern game of zones and team defence, a really good habit to practice is not using up your space too early.

By standing still you give your defender opportunity to position in the best way to protect space you most likely want to receive the ball in.

At training practice using the witches hats as a reference point and move towards it at different angles to receive the ball.

The ball movement of the drill still stays the same but you get to practice receiving and disposing the ball a different way each time, just like in a game.

Using the same square kicking drill as an example you can see where player B changes the starting positions but the ball movement stays the same. 

By moving in these patterns we can also get extra practice of the first two habits we were practicing in the warm up, opening our stance to receive the ball and different types of kicks.

All these examples don’t really require any extra effort during training and they may only improve a part of your game by 1%, but it’s these 1%ers that can make the difference in your effectiveness.

If you look at the best players in the competition, I can tell you there’s something they’re doing that you’re not.

Michael Osborne is a development coach at Carlton. 

This article was written as a part of the requirements for AFL High Performance Coaching Accreditation.

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