“I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about practice. I mean listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, but we’re talking about practice.” — Allen Iverson
On May 10, 2002, in response to criticism by his coach for missing practice, Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson went on a legendary rant that included the word “practice” more than 20 times. Iverson felt that practice was “important,” but not important enough to attend regularly, and certainly not important enough to merit questions from reporters.
As a high school coach, I see a number of players with similar attitudes. They may not call a press conference to discuss their disdain for practice, but every time afternoon announcements mention that practice is canceled because of rain, there’s a buzz in the air and I hear shouts of “no practice!” ringing down the halls as players look forward to a free afternoon.
What Iverson and these young players are missing is that practice provides more than conditioning and skills. Tough practice makes you mentally strong. By learning how to endure pain and discomfort, you’re building the mental fortitude to work through losing streaks, push your body during the fourth quarter and lead your team in tough times. Embracing practice teaches you not only to work hard, but also to love hard work.
High school baseball players are graded on five measures: hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, throwing and fielding. I’d add a sixth: mental toughness. Athletes who develop mental toughness by practicing alone and pushing through discomfort consistently outperform more talented players. Mental toughness may be the most important characteristic of any athlete, and it doesn’t require talent—just a passion for hard work.
If you can learn to embrace practice, you’ll have a huge advantage at the next level. Next time you hear the rain coming down, don’t be one of those athletes cheering in the hallways. Instead, look forward to the opportunity to practice on your own and develop a mental edge over your opponents.
Joe Lopez, CSCS, works with many different athletes at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta, N.J. His expertise is in track and field, baseball and golf. He has worked as a personal trainer for more than seven years. Follow him online at jerseystrong.wordpress.com or on Twitter.