I thought I go with the self evident statement right out of the blocks. If you want to get good at something you gotta do the reps! Just like Ivan Zaytsev in this short clip.
I am sure most people reading this would agree that what Ivan is doing is indeed reps. But I would like to ask the question: What is a repetition? This is a topic that I have pondered before on this blog (here and here). The reason I have pondered and continue to ponder the topic is that is increasingly clear to me that what we most often consider a repetition (see video above) is not a repetition in the sense of a meaningful activity with the goal of improving performance. It can be a confidence building activity. It can be a ‘grooving’ activity. It can be a mechanical activity. It can be a concentration activity. It can be a time consuming activity. All these activities are important and valuable when used appropriately. What most repetitions are not, is a meaningful activity with the goal of improving performance. Several articles that I have seen recently explore the idea of practice and repetitions. The first on Daniel Coyle’s blog, talks about NFL player Odell Beckham Jnr and ex NBA player Steve Kerr. In it, he describes ‘High Leverage Practice’. The title of the article proves the truism that to be a successful author you need to give things catchy names, if possible to things that already exist**. I would call what he describes analysing the requirements of the activity and devising specific practice for it. Very briefly, Beckham practices catching with one hand, as he would if he were being closely guarded and Kerr practiced coming of the bench and being effective by coming of the bench and shooting single shots, instead of shooting hundreds in a row. The Kerr drill is particularly interesting as the session described had him doing a very low number of repetitions. It is not the least bit surprising to me that he has taken this mentality (of thinking about things and not just doing what he was taught) into his coaching career. The second article is about NBA player Kyle Korver, one of the best current shooters, who also advocates shorter sessions and more specific repetitions over volume. In a team sport, full of open skills that require reading the play and responding to opponents, it is self evident to me that we do not need a high volume of repetitions. Instead we need an appropriate number of highly leveraged, ugly and specific repetitions. For example, we don’t need to practice service reception with one player, we need to practice with multiple players on the whole court. And yes, not every player will receive the same number of balls. And yes, some player might not get a repetition for two or more minutes. But that is the way the game is, and practicing as if there game were different, doesn’t help anyone.
** I may be doing someone a disservice here, but when I hear about ‘train ugly’, I think of exactly that.
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