Are Your Athletes Wasting Reps in Practice?

Mike Singletary, the great Bears linebacker turned coach said, “Before we can talk about a championship, we have to practice like a championship team.” Champions don’t waste reps in practice. Are your athletes bringing a championship level of focus, purpose, and intensity to every repetition?

Practice, Deliberate Practice, Make Every Rep Count, Quality Practice, Quality Reps, Wasting Reps, Purpose, Goals, Feedback, Coaching, Thoughts Drive Performance, Sport Psychology, Coach Education, Coach Development, Mental Toughness, Resilience, Team Culture, Culture Development, Team Cohesion, Motivation, Personal Development, Mental Conditioning, Cognitive Performance, Mental Training, Mental Game, Mindset

Wasting Reps

In high school I went out on the tennis court and just hit balls with a partner. No purpose. No goal. Little focus.

Consequently, I saw little improvement in my game. It wasn’t until I started working with a tennis pro that I began to learn the value of quality practice.

I soon realized that there was a big difference in going through the motions and real, focused practice.

10,000 Hours Does Not Equal Expert

When I became a tennis pro myself, I repeatedly told my players that in practice, “You’re either getting better or getting worse.”

It was only later that I learned there was brain science to back up what I’d learned through experience.

Simply put, the more you practice a certain way of swinging a bat, for example, the more solidified that swing becomes. Most people refer to this as muscle memory.

However, the truth lies in the brain. It is called neuroplasticity. Our brains continually change, adapt, and grow. If I swing a bat the right way once and the wrong way twice, then I’m teaching myself to be a poor hitter. Does that make sense?

An athlete who puts in 10,000 hours of wasted reps will become an expert at being mediocre. Those hours must be intentionally invested in the right kind of practice.

How to Make Every Rep Count

Athletes have to put in the work to get better. That is no secret. However, what some coaches and athletes miss is the truth that every repetition counts.

With every shot, swing, block, or volley the athlete is either getting better or worse. Ultimately, it comes down to focus, failing, and feedback.

1. Try to Get Better

According to Anders Ericsson, whose research the “10,000 Rule” is based on, the reason most people aren’t getting better at something is because “they’re not actually trying to get better.”

Every rep needs a purpose.

This is the difference between a basketball player shooting 100 jump shots versus focusing intently on using a good knee bend to elevate on every jump shot, practicing shooting over a defender.

2. Push the Limits

Your athletes should only succeed at 50-80% of their attempts, according to Daniel Coyle in The Little Book of Talent. More, and athletes are going through the motions. Less and they lose confidence, becoming defeated.

Encourage athletes to get outside their comfort zones and make mistakes.

3. Immediate Feedback

Feedback is essential to making every repetition count. Whether by seeing the result (i.e., the basketball hitting the front of the rim) or through coaching (i.e., “Reach up to contact the ball at its highest point on your serve”), feedback is what allows athletes to learn and adapt.

Each rep should come with feedback – the more specific the better.

Encourage your athletes to, “Get outside your comfort zone but do it in a focused way, with clear goals, a plan for reaching those goals, and a way to monitor your progress,” as Ericsson puts it in his latest book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

Bonus Download

To help your athletes get the get the most out of every rep, hand them a copy of this free poster: 3 Best Practices to Make Every Rep Count!

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No More Wasted Reps

Wasted reps come from a poor attitude and a misunderstanding about how to get better. Help your athletes get the most out of every rep. Give every rep a purpose. Push athletes to stretch their limits and risk failure – in a supportive yet demanding way. Lastly, find a way to provide relevant and timely feedback. Use these 3 best practices to take your team to a new level!

As NHL Hall of Famer, Eric Lindros puts it, “It’s not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it’s what you put into the practice.”

Question: What is one way you can help your players get more out of every repetition?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.