Anyone who has been taught or has tried to master a skill has heard the saying “practice makes perfect”. Whether it came from a teacher, a coach, or a parent, this saying portrays the idea that if a person practices something they will indeed master or improve the skill.
It is because of that saying that when I was 10 years old, I would go home spend 20 minutes on the piano every day just so that I could report back to my teacher and be able to say that I did indeed practice, but this did not mean that I practiced with focus or even cared about practicing, and I will be the first one to say that because of that mentality and work ethic, I was a very lousy piano player.
It is because of that saying that I would work to swing the bat 500 times a day, 4 times a week, so that I could show up my freshman year of college and be that much closer to being a part of a program called the 25,000 swing club. This was a club that was made to encourage us to practice outside of team practices.
Yes, by doing these things I could report back and say that I practiced and felt good about what I was doing, but the problem was that while I was doing all of the practice to make myself better at my skill, I was mindless. I cannot say that I did not always have a focus, because that would be untrue, but to say that I had a focus during all 500 swings would be a hefty stretch and to be honest who can truly say that they were 100% focused through 500 swings? That is A LOT of swings.
The reason I feel that it is important to touch on this topic is because too often I have girls come into lessons and know that the first thing I will ask is, “how is practice going?” Most respond with,”good!” I then say, “I am so glad to hear that, but what is good?” They respond back by saying “….well I hit the ball!” I then say well that is a good thing. ” Did you have a focus?” They say,” Yes!” I continue to pry and respond with, “ What was it?” Most say, “to hit the ball.”
Hearing this over and over reiterates the fact that as coaches we need to make sure we do a better job of 2 things.
1) FOCUS and quality over quantity
2) What is their definition of Good
Focus and quality over quantity
We all need to do a better job of helping the girls refocus or find a simple focus. Our bodies respond by what we have taught them not only physically, but also mentally. The focus that we guide the players to get to should be short, simple, and help them mentally to allow the body to do what it has practiced physically. This can be focusing on a certain point in the swing such as hands inside the ball or knee drive, or it can be focusing on the type of result you are wanting such as ground balls up the middle, or line drive to the second baseman.
Muscle memory is actually training the brain to fire signals to the muscles and then in turn the muscles do what we have repeatedly taught them. People wonder why under pressure a lot of times we struggle. This is because the mind is worried, doubtful, or fearful of failure that it has no way of sending the signals to the muscles to allow them to do what you have been working on all along. Getting the muscles to ultimately react because of good focused practice is what we should all be working towards. To do that we need to limit ourselves to what our minds can handle. I would rather have 50 quality focused swings then 150 swings that are taken just to report back that practice was done.
Definition of Good
I know this may seem strange, but one thing that I have learned is that my definition of good often is not the same as some of my players. When I say this it goes both ways. I always try and get the girls to end on a “good one”. They smoke a line drive shot right back at me and I tell them that was great, and they will say, “no it was not, can I get another?”
These are the girls that often times struggle with confidence. With this type player work to help them understand that is won’t be perfect every time and when they get a good piece of the ball, they did all they could and that is a great thing.
This also works in the reverse. I will say once again, “let’s end on a good one, and you are the judge.” The player will then hit a ground ball to the short stop decently hard (but not to their capability) and say, “Okay, I’m done.” These young ladies need help in understanding that they can do more. They have more potential. I encourage you to push these girls to help them know just how well they can do by challenging them to do even better next pitch.
“Practice makes perfect” or “perfect practice makes great”? What is perfect…? Just like good, everyone has their own definition. My definition is 100% attitude, %100 effort, quality over quantity. Training our minds to create good muscle patterns so that when the time comes and there is pressure, our mind does not inhibit the muscles to do what they have been taught because the mind is so worried about failing!
I encourage you to understand your players and their thought processes, to help the girls find certain focus every practice and improve on that specific focus. I encourage you to preach quality practice over quantity.