Does practice make perfect?
We have all been to tournaments around the UK and seen many players warm up with skills similar to that of professionals table tennis players. However when the scoreboard turns, and pressure and fatigue hits the player, everything crumbles. It’s not that the skill level is poor, it is the ability to recall that skill in pressured competition situations that is poor. Learning a skill is only part of the process when your aim is to win the tournament. Goldsmith (2015) states, “skill is the ability to perform a sporting skill consistently well at speed, under fatigue and pressure conditions in a competition environment”.
Are the above players just practising? You often hear coaches use the phrase ‘practice makes perfect’, but great successful coaches take this step further. If you want your players to master a skill adopt the ‘practice makes perfect’ approach like the players mentioned above. If you want your players to master this skill under pressure during competition then you need to follow the ‘performance practice’ approach.
An example of this philosophy in practice would be: A table tennis coach is teaching a group of junior players how to successfully topspin from a half long ball. Rule 1: Teach the basics of the skill (explain and demonstrate within 3 minutes). Rule 2: Players practice the skill with coaching feedback. Rule 3: Make the practice as close to a game situation as possible. The condition is, players play top table and each player has to serve half long on each serve, with the opponent top spinning the half long ball perfecting the skill under a high intensity game scenario.
I have found when players just practice they can become lazy or can become comfortable with what they are doing. As soon as you put them into a competition environment you can see their brain become active and alive.
In a recent interview we conducted with Steve Bailey (Paul Drinkhall’s mentor and coach) said when Paul was a junior their ethos in the training hall set by the coaches was, “What you practice in the training hall is replicated in the match hall”. Steve commented, “If you train or play practice games in a relaxed, joke like manner, how can you suddenly expect your brain to adjust at the drop of a hat to playing in a pressure match style environment?
You must condition yourself in your practice to develop this mentality, then your practice level is much more likely to be transferred to your competitive match play.
Of course there are a number of factors that influence a player becoming successful but avoiding this approach in practice will give your players less practice on pressured situations which they will face in competition.
Do you have any examples as a coach using the performance practice approach? Leave your comments below.
Performance practices makes for perfect performance!
Goldsmith, W. (2015). The 7 Skills Steps You Must Master in Every Sport. – WG Coaching. 2015. [ONLINE] Available at: wgcoaching.com/sports-skills. [Accessed 19 March 2015].