Coach’s Corner – Practice: An Introduction to Fundamentals

* Author’s Note: This column was written for the Hadley Park and Recreation Department as part of an athletic coaching lessons and life lessons series that the author is writing called Mondays with Matt.

Today, on Mondays with Matt, I want to talk to you briefly about fundamentals and practice. Why? Well, practice – and practicing the fundamentals of whatever activity you or your kid are participating in – is often overlooked and not looked at in the most favorable light. Last week, I talked with to you about creating your own experiences through your own activities and the fact that these small instances of play actually help develop skills. Really, what I was talking to you about was practice and practicing on honing your skills. I am going to spend a few weeks on this concept of practicing the fundamentals because it is so important. So, to all of you kids out there who read this and who are having someone read this to them, gather around and let’s talk about practice.

First, I want to start off with a quote: “We [are] talking about practice. Not the game, but practice!” Now, I am taking this quote out of context, but we are indeed talking about practice. I mention this quote for two reasons. For one, it’s a fun way to start this week’s column. Some of you who are younger may not quite get the reference and that is fine. For some of us of a certain age, this was a head shaking yet amusing moment in sports history. NBA All Star Allen Iverson had an issue with a coach and went on a memorable rant about practice that is noteworthy for the number of times the word “practice” is mentioned. In retrospect, it is an amusingly absurd rant.

The second reason I mention this, however, is due to the message behind that rant. In Iverson’s eyes, practice was not as important as a game at that point in time. Now, parents and kids alike, I want you to think back to your last sports season or recreational lesson session. Parents, think back to your sports and recreation days. How much did you like practice? Of course, there will be some of you who loved practice. For many, myself included, there was a love/hate relationship that existed. You enjoyed practice because it likely beat doing homework or some other activity. You got to play a game that you loved and be with friends. But practice was something to have done. What you likely really looked forward to were the games. Practices far outnumber games, so this is not uncommon.

Keep thinking back to that last practice. Don’t leave that world of memory yet. When you study coaching or start getting into the details of how to become the best that you are capable of becoming – remember that John Wooden quote on success – at your given activity, what do most teachers and coaches have in common in their philosophy? The idea that the games are important, yes. But success in a performance or a game does not come unless you have put the time and effort in at practice. For it is at practice that you develop your craft. Where you work on and attempt to master the fundamentals.

You see, practice is the most important part of recreation. We all love the feeling when we have succeeded at your craft, whether it be playing a song on the piano or painting a picture or helping our team win an athletic competition. But those things do not just happen. It takes dedication. It takes effort and work. It takes a desire to learn and develop your skills. It takes repetition. Kids, what else does this sound like? It sounds a lot like your typical school day doesn’t it? Adults, this sounds a lot like most things in life doesn’t it? That’s because the concepts are the same. Being able to do the basic act of what it takes to accomplish something – what are called the fundamentals – is achieved through practice. That is why we go to school. If this step were not required, education would be a series of tests with no instruction. The whole world of learning and teaching would not be relevant. But it is. In fact, education is the most valuable treasure that you will ever receive in this life other than love. But these things must be maintained and developed.

That is why we practice. That is why we practice the basic concepts in practice. In order to achieve success in any endeavor, including sports and recreation, you must be willing to put in the effort and the work. You must be willing to work on the fundamental skills at practice. So, you see, we are not just talking about practice. We are talking about developing success. Practice and working on the fundamentals may not be the most glorious of activities, but it will help you find the success and glory that you seek.

So, to my young friends who read this column or have it read to them, remember that practice is a good thing – not a bad thing. With the school year coming up, I want you to treat practice with respect and as a great activity to do, because it is important. Whether you are at soccer practice, music practice or simply doing your homework, give it all of the effort that you have. There is a reward at the end if you do well. I know, homework is not fun. I can relate, too. I am working on my second Masters Degree and I have homework that I do not always enjoy doing. But I know that if I work hard enough, it will help me.

Now that we have covered the importance of practice, stay tuned for next week for a serious discussion on the importance of working on fundamentals in both athletic and in life. We will be doing a deeper dive of some of what we covered today.

Have a good week everyone!

~ Coach Matt

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