Smart Practice

You and your coach are frustrated that all the hard work and hours of practice are not paying dividends. So what to do?

Published May 28, 2009 06:08


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It's a scenario every athlete can relate to: you lose a match/game you were expected to win. You and your coach are frustrated that all the hard work and hours of practice are not paying dividends. So what to do? Many athletes and their coaches go straight back to practice and spend even more hours training.

Is this the best solution to turning around the athlete's success in competition?

Many times, the answer is NO!

There are many considerations to discuss between coach and athlete to determine the best course of action in this situation. Smart practice strategies help you and your coach reap the rewards you deserve.

Listen to Yourself
What do you need? What do you really desire and require? Life is filled with pressures both in and out of sport. Your ability to read yourself, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually is the key to success.

* Treat yourself as a whole person not just as an athlete or employee or spouse.
* This holistic approach will help you reach your goals.

What does this mean to you as an athlete? It means that when you experience a bad loss or things are tough, you do not need to be afraid to review your training options. There are alternatives to flogging yourself at practice, which is likely to cause more harm than good. Your body and mind may be sending you a message. Consider that when you are tired:
* Mentally you are flat so you are not reacting as quickly. This causes the feeling that you are struggling with your technique.
* Physically you are not moving and reacting quickly. You feel slow and sluggish.
* Emotionally you are drained so your nervous system is slow to respond. You feel very jaded and unable to anticipate or concentrate well and perhaps lack motivation.

Consider your individual requirements for work, rest and play in every training decision you and your coach make regarding your yearly competition schedule and weekly practice activities. The choices you make daily will determine if you reach your goals. Champions oversee their programs and make educated choices about how and when they train.

Motor Patterns Don't Disappear!
You have hit millions of balls, run thousands of miles, swam hundreds of laps in your life to reach this point. Your motor patterns (the anticipation, activity and wiring of your muscles and nervous system that allows you to produce your sport-specific technique automatically and skillfully ) are firmly entrenched. You have practiced so many times, in such a specific way, that you would have to double that number to make a major technical change. Similarly, your body does not forget how to perform after a day or a week of not practicing

Variety and Recovery
Variety will keep your body and mind balanced. Experience another sport and cross train for fun and performance benefits. It will keep your body active and stimulate your nervous system like never before. Try swimming, bike riding, in-line-skating and team activities like soccer. Recovery is critical for you as an athlete. Include regular massage, hot and cold hydrotherapy and stretching every day. Other active experiences such as mind-body activities like Yoga and Tai Chi may also assist your body, mind and soul to recover faster. Perhaps most important is that these experiences take you away from the environment that is causing you stress. Your body and mind will love you for it and you will be refreshed and eager to get back to practice when the time is right.

Practice After Competition - Is it necessary?
Many coaches encourage their athletes to hit more after a match, swim more after a meet, or run more after a race, especially after a loss. You can be physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted after competition, especially if you lose.
* Right after a match/game is usually not the most appropriate time or mindset in which to learn, to make changes or address an issue in your technique.
* Wait for 24 hours so that you are more ready to understand and appreciate feedback.
* This also gives both you and your coach time to reflect on what really needs to be improved.
* Sometimes athletes and coaches mistake skills for confidence or visa versa. If it is confidence in an area you lack, it may only take a short, properly structured practice time (20 minutes) to have you feeling great again about a certain technique or situation.
* A short confidence boosting session can be very useful after a win when you will be competing again the next day.
* Communicate with your coach about when is the most effective time for you to practice.
* Effective learning and practice occurs in many ways. Use mental training, such as visual and verbal feedback using match/game tapes, diagrams, conversations and visualization techniques.

You, the athlete, have the final responsibility to look after yourself. Make smart and educated choices about how you are feeling and modify your training and practice schedule accordingly.

When you train, remember to engage your brain!

Balance Your Training
The court/field is your work place and you need to spend time there to be effective on match/game days. Practice sessions are important to maintain and develop "your game": to understand the way you need to play to win and how you maximize your strengths and address your weaknesses appropriately for the level at which you are competing. It is critically important to ensure that your practice time is effective and efficient.

Include these aspects into your training program to keep your mind and body stimulated:
* Variety of practice partners. Different athletes will stimulate and challenge you with their distinctive styles.
* Sessions that involve drills and activities aimed at building your confidence and self-belief.
* Simulating match/game conditions is important to continue to hone the aspects of your game that you aim to develop and improve.

Content supplied by Craig Morris
Manager | Coach Education
Tennis Australia
Photo: Sony Ericsson WTA Tour

DISCLAIMER: The contents of the Game, Set, Health site, are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.
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