For the storied San Francisco 49er teams of the mid-1980s and early ’90s, games weren’t just won on Sundays, but during the week’s worth of practice sessions leading up to them. “You can’t b.s. all week long and then go out there and expect to put your best product on the football field on that given Sunday,” says Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, who likened the intensity of the 49ers practices to games against NFC West division rivals. [Read more about how Rice and the 49ers defeated teams before even taking the field.]
What is a quality practice? It starts with viewing each workout as an opportunity to become a better player today than you were yesterday.
Here, Dr. Mike Voight, a sports performance consultant for teams at the University of Southern California and the University of Texas, provides direction for how to enhance your performance in practice.
- “You have to practice with a purpose,” says New York Mets third baseman David Wright. “If you create bad habits in practice, that will carry over to the game.”
To evaluate your attitude toward practice, Voight recommends a self-assessment, including questions such as, “How often do I look forward to the end of practice?” and “Do I view practice as punishment?” If your answer is yes to either of these, you probably need an attitude adjustment.
Once you embrace the idea of a quality practice, you must actually prepare for the practice, and “not just show up,” Voight says. “You need physical and mental routines in order to park the distractions so you can be full-time players.”
Adjusting your attitude starts with off-the-field routines. What are you doing physically to get ready for practice? Did you sleep well the night before? Are you hydrating the night before and the morning of? Are you eating the right foods?
The coaching staff prepares for practice by organizing video walkthroughs, practice plans and lots more. You should return the favor by showing up equally rehearsed and ready to take full advantage of the practice. “Many of the athletes I work with get so used to the routine, they watch video just because they have to,” Voight says. “What are you getting out of that tape?”
Take notes on the game tapes, study the practice plan and use it to determine what you want to improve upon that day.
- Says Orlando Magic guard Gilbert Arenas: “Don’t get so hard on yourself at practice. As hard as you get on yourself, it’s going to be 10 times worse in a game.”
Voight recommends checking in at breaks during practice and asking yourself, “Am I improving on what I set out to accomplish?”
Don’t just think about things that aren’t going well. Think about anything positive others have noticed. Such “uplifts” are quick and effective ways to grow your confidence during the action. Whether it comes from a teammate or coach, “you can internalize it and say, ‘I am playing hard and I’m happy that people are taking notice,’” Voight says.
Maybe practice isn’t going so great, and you’re struggling to make progress on the goals you set out to accomplish. Go back to the basics or the skills you are able to perform well.
There’s no better time to employ these routines than in practice. Adopt these techniques, revise them if you need to, so when it’s game time, you can free your mind and get into the rhythm of the game.
For Shaun Phillips, outside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, “perfect practice” enables him to improve his performance and transfer gains to the playing field. He offers plenty more practice advice in the video above.
Photos: Danny Vega, sportsillustrated.cnn.com