There are a number of reasons why practice is the critical element in your athletic performance.
• This is, of course, the time when you improve your technical skills, and get individual or team plays down to the point where you can execute them automatically, without having to stop and think about what you are doing.
• This is also the time where you work on weak areas, and expand your range of skills. Some athletes are content to stay in their comfort zone, and use practice as a time to get ego-strokes rather than to bring some of the weaker aspects of their game up a notch.
• Practice can be an important period in terms of your self-confidence. As things go well in practice, you will feel more encouraged, and generally confident in your abilities to execute under pressure. The most important key to athletic success is the ability to deliver the goods at crunch time.
• It is also a time to work on your mental game. If you envision yourself as a player who can go strong late in the game, if you want to be a team leader, if you could do a better job of re-focusing and getting back into the game after making an error or, if your game would benefit from better anticipation -- than you should be practicing and solidifying these mental skills at the same time you are looking to make progress on your physical skills.
What is important to remember in all of this is that significant progress will be accomplished to the degree that you take personal responsibility for making progress. Too often, athletes, especially in team sports, show up to practice physically, but not mentally. They go through the motions and put in the hours, but they have not taken the time to articulate to themselves clearly what they plan to get out of the practice, so their progress is sporadic rather than focused.
Here are some important steps that will help you become personally accountable for your own progress:
• You should have a clear sense of what you are trying to get out of the practice. What is the outcome you desire (for example: tighter ball control, to cut down on your turnovers, greater confidence in your court decision-making ability, or more explosive moves). If you have not figured out exactly what you want to happen, or rely on the coach to do this, you are not likely to make as much progress.
• Since, you are responsible for team goals, and whatever the coach decides you should be working on. But you must not let that prevent you from assuming responsibility for your personal goals as well. You can even meet with your coach in advance, to identify individual goals for yourself.
• In order to make good progress, you also need a game plan. What are the things that you can do to accomplish your goals for practice? These include reminding yourself of your goal and giving yourself positive feedback for staying focused.
In sum, what you want to do is:
• Set goals
• Engage in the work of achieving them, and
• Evaluate your efforts
As you apply this strategy to improving your athletic skills, you will be incorporating a life skill that will serve you in personal and professional concerns in years to come.