Practice and Expectations

Thursday, February 23, 2012 | 7 Comments

A number of events and conversations recently have led me to rack my brain about why many coaches claim “kids just aren’t the same these days.”  I’m quick to blame the technology era. Cell phones, video games, and the like have replaced the days of wall ball, kick ball and home run derby. Even in these silly little games, as kids, we got something out of it. Believe it or not, even though I don’t hit, I learned more about hitting playing home run derby with the boys than anywhere else at a really young age.

Now days, the art of practicing, is becoming lost. When a child lacks entertainment, rarely do you see them out shooting hoops or hitting off a tee. You don’t see buddies out playing catch. I can remember seeing the boys on my street playing catch with each other, whether it was a football or baseball. At least 3 of us had basketball hoops, so often you could find us in a driveway playing 3 on 3 or Horse. It really just isn’t the same.

Many times a parent or instructor will make the comment “you wouldn’t understand, I bet you were always really good.” I can’t talk for 100% of my peers, but I can bet most of us weren’t amazing softball players out of the womb. I know I wasn’t, so when someone tries to credit our status as elite athletes to something that “always was” they are far from the truth. If you ask me to recall my memories, I can recall more about practices growing up than I can games. Why? Practices had a purpose, and they were frequent.

As a college coach, all too often we see teams that just play. You have to play to be seen, so week in and week out they play tournament after tournament. My guess is they get one practice in between tournaments, and if they are lucky all the girls are there. How do you improve as a team if you can’t practice what goes wrong in a game? This is where it differs from when I was growing up. We didn’t play EVERY weekend, we had mid week practices and weekend practices. You have to practice more than once a week for improvement or change.

I truly believe the art of good practices and productive practices both on a team and individual basis is becoming lost. Athletes have to practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Perfect practice makes perfect. Those last three sentences are the words of the best softball coach in the country, Mike Candrea.

We’re in a day and age of instant gratification, but sports doesn’t evolve that way. The fun part about sports, the blood sweat and tears that produce improvement, aren’t going to speed up. It seems, in this age, the amount of blood, sweat and tears are decreasing for video games, texting and facebook. I challenge any parent reading this to assess how much time your athlete puts in to improving. Don’t count just going out and swinging 10 times to say she hit. How often do they practice with the purpose to improve at something?

I’m not saying this applies to every young athlete out there, because I have witnessed those die hards who would sleep on the field, only to wake up and start practicing again. Unfortunately, athletes like that are becoming the minorities.

To be good at your sport, you have to put the time. If you ask any of us that have made it to a higher level, we will preach on about our practices both with our team and at home. Lessons are great, but if you don’t practice in between them, what good do they do? No level of success comes without hard work, dedication, and an expectation of excellence. Another quote from Coach Candrea that has stuck with me is, “We strive for perfection in order to reach excellence.”

Practices are the fun part of our life now as professionals. There’s passion and energy to improve and learn from others. It was the same way when we were younger. Practice is where you are tested. Where expectations are set and you start your progression to meet them. Expectations aren’t pressure; they’re a way to measure you’re improvement. Parents, how far can your child go, if there’s no destination near or far set for them? They’ll most likely stay stationary.

As a coach, I hear more parents complain about too high of expectations or how the pressure of expectations is getting to their child. Question for you parents: do you face expectation at work or in real life? Do you think your child learning to deal with it early on might be a benefit. Ask any coach, our concern is not only to make your athletes better players in their respective sport, it’s to make them better people and equip them with things that will roll over to real grown up life!

Coddling of athletes in practice doesn’t help anyone, individual or the team. Practice is where we are pushed to our limits. Why? Because then in a game it seems easy. If you keep a high level of expectations (goals) you have something to CONSTANTLY work towards. Something to ALWAYS be practicing for. Something to compete with yourself and others daily to reach.

I challenge all coaches, parents and athletes alike to take a step back and look to see if you or your little athlete is practicing enough. Is their a purpose behind the practice or is it just going through the motions? What’s your expectation for the day, week, month, year, and eventually you’re career.

And lastly, parents don’t enable your kids’ laziness or accept excuses. In the long run, it doesn’t help them in sports or life. Make them be accountable and responsible for their practice. Help them set goals, push them to achieve them, but enable them to work towards it independently.

I can say from experience, my dad had his ideas of what he thought my career could be, he never voiced those. He just made sure if I were using his time throwing I would be giving 100%, and if I didn’t practice in between lessons, we wouldn’t go to the next one. Simple things like that fumed my work ethic, dedication and love for what I do. While my dad is my number one fan, at the right time, he was also my number one critic. Not because he was angry or upset with me, but because he wanted me to learn and realize what we needed to PRACTICE next.

I could go on and on…  maybe next I’ll blog about purpose or specifically about practicing pitching, as I think that’s a little lost as well, but for now I’ll leave you with an interesting link I found on parents of athletes:

I fired myself up to practice…. #8

  • You hit it right on the head!!

  • Tuvajr

    I’m glad you posted this. I was called by one of the other Coaches on my 13 year old daughters competitive softball team the other night. He said the other Coach wanted to play a regular Season and play in Tournaments every weekend. I then said when will you find time to practice? I said how can you work on mistakes or correct anything if you don’t practice. He agreed with me. I also agree with the times have changed. I can remember going outside all the time playing Basketball, Football, and Baseball and one of my favorite games was playing 500. I will definitely show this Blog to the Coach. Your my daughters all time favorite players. Thanks for posting this.

  • AMinervini

    Fantastic advice that, especially for parents. I was lucky enough to have a father similar to yours. He wouldn’t risk losing another toe nail if I wasn’t ready to work 🙂 Thanks for being such a great role model

  • PurpleAardvaark

    A few years ago, on a street I don’t often travel, I noticed a young boy with a basketball dribbling it up and down the sidewalk.  Last weekend, driving on that same street, I saw the same boy — about 2 feet taller now — playing driveway basketball with 4 or 5 other boys.  With his back to the basket, he managed to pivot in mid air and got off a tolerable shot which bounced off the backboard but failed to make it through the hoop.  I said to my wife, “That kid’s got some moves.”   I don’t know if he’ll make the team, I don’t know if he’ll play but, like the President he will always enjoy playing that game; you could see the enthusiasm with which he was playing.

  • Thank you for posting this!  I was having a conversation w/ my 10 y.o. last night about her only liking games and not practice. I will have her read this tonight in hopes of motivating her.  And I will definitely be implementing the no practice in between lessons, then skip the next lesson!

    -Melissa (tmd636)

  • cin6832

    Thank you Cat!!! Hard work + determination + dedication = excellence. Too many parents these days want to blame everyone except the kid….we need to continue to teach kids that actions have consequences…both good and bad. This applies to the field, court, classroom, home and life.

  • alleykat35

    My 2 nieces played softball until they were 21. I was at every practice & every game cheering them on. Although they loved to play, they would be the first to tell you when they messed up. Ashley was a power hitter & hated to be intentionally walked at 10yrs old. She was  a left- handed batter who was more dangerous batting