How To Guarantee Your Athletes Get Better Everyday

You’ve probably heard that we get better at what we focus on. This is why we practice. This is one reason we keep team and player stats. However, showing up to practice everyday doesn’t guarantee improvement. Even working hard is not enough if the focus and intensity of practice is off target. 

How Do You Know Your Players Improved Today?

Early in my sport psychology career, I worked with a talented volleyball team in Arizona. Their coaches were well versed in the technical and strategic elements of the game. The young women on the team were skilled in their positions and generally worked well together.

During the preseason training, I asked the coaches about goals and evaluation. I asked them how they knew if individual players were getting better. Their response was one I’ve come to find pretty typical. The coaches shared how they design drills to develop and address player’s skill levels throughout the season. They discussed their plan and training philosophy. Yet, they couldn’t nail down exactly how they would know whether a player got better that week or not.

We decided to implement a three step system to make every practice count for every player on the team. The idea was to challenge each player to challenge herself, focus on one thing each practice, and develop a habit of evaluating the quality of her practice and competition.

There was no going through the motions or phoning it in. As I told players when I was coaching, “You’re either getting better or you’re getting worse.”

After Action Review

In Talented Is Overrated, author Geoff Colvin writes, “Practice activities are worthless without useful feedback about the results.”

A standard practice used by military units to evaluate the results of training or a mission is the After Action Review (AAR). This is when the unit reflects on what went well and what didn’t. They identify factors to repeat and others to improve. The idea is for the unit to capitalize on these lessons learned and refine their performance over time.

Businesses similarly review their wins and losses at a quarterly review or board meeting. In sports, teams rely on their stat sheets to highlight where they are succeeding and what they need to work on.

Daily Practice Analysis

In today’s data-driven sports environment, it has become even more important for each player to take responsibility for his or her own improvement. Remember, the best athletes never stop getting better.

For players to get better everyday they must evaluate their practice every bit as critically as they do their performance. As Pete Carroll, author of Win Forever and Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks, professes, “Practice is everything.”

To help that volleyball team in Arizona foster daily improvement, I encouraged their coaches and players to adopt a new habit – a daily self-analysis.

To help coaches guarantee their athletes are getting better everyday, players need to evaluate themselves in 3 categories:

1. Mental Game

Each organization puts a premium on different facets of the mental game. However, I’ve found that almost every coach demands a few tenets of mental toughness.

These may include:
  • Focus
  • Positive Attitude
  • Effort
  • Determination
  • Emotional Control

Regardless, athletes need to reflect on their abilities to demonstrate the mental game tenets of their organization.

2. Confidence Builders

Confidence comes from at least six different sources. Have players identify the themes of their inner monologue. What are they saying to themselves? Thoughts drive performance. Therefore, an athlete’s self-talk is critical for them to be aware of.

Secondly, confidence is built by previous successes. Ask players to jot down a few things they performed well at in practice. Over time, this builds each player’s databank of successes, points they can leverage to foster and sustain confidence.

3. Goal Achievement 

Just as setting practice goals is necessary for improvement, reflecting on whether or not those goals were achieved is equally important.

Just like the After Action Review, assessing what worked and what didn’t closes the feedback loop necessary for daily improvement. Reflection and documentation solidify the learning process.

Free Download

To help you make sure your athletes are getting better everyday, I’ve made my Daily Practice Analysis free for you to download.

Help Your Athletes Get Better Everyday

Together, these three components make up an athlete’s Daily Practice Analysis. Most players can complete it in 2-3 minutes. Those precious minutes help both the athlete and his or her coaches to know that he or she is getting better every single day.


Question: Why do you think it is important for athletes to evaluate their quality of practice? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.


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

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