When practice doesn't make perfect
"Practice makes perfect." There is a cliche that might just have outworn its welcome. I mean, let's face it, it's just plain false. I know plenty of people that practice plenty of things for more than enough time and they don't come anywhere close to perfect. Come watch me play tennis sometime and you will see living proof that practice does not necessarily create perfection. The most honest thing I ever heard a coach say was when my son's high school football coach told the parents and players,
"Don't come to me and say,
'It's not fair that he plays more than me. I work harder than him.'
Life isn't fair because hard work does not necessarily translate into talent."
So. Very. True.
That is not to say pitchers should not strive to better themselves through hard work and practice. What it does tell us is that ONLY EFFECTIVE PRACTICE RESULTS IN IMPROVEMENT. If going out throwing 100 pitches a day was effective then so many more pitchers would end up in D1 programs. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is by definition, insanity. (I think I just realized the problem with my tennis game but that is for another blog post). In all seriousness, I see it far too often. Girls that come to me doing the same drills over and over. Drills that don't really serve a purpose and are not part of an effective motion. And the real shame is that even though they have gotten really good at those drills their pitching has shown little or no improvement. So what's a pitcher to do?
Well, the first thing is to make sure that practice is purposeful. Each drill needs to have a purpose and the pitcher needs to know what that purpose is. Then, like in yoga, there also needs to be an intention, a focus. That means a pitcher can't literally just go through the motions with no thought or intent. Know what the drill is for and focus on that when doing it. Work the brain, not just the body.
Second is a rule I say to my own kids so often that I swear they are going to put it on my headstone, "Do what you have to do before you do what you want to do." I want them to know that functioning that way makes them more productive and makes the fun stuff more enjoyable because they don't have responsibilities hanging over their heads. Every pitcher wants to throw full-motion, show off their best moving pitch, pop the glove and really just have a blast. It is fun to do those things, and fun is super important and motivating. But the importance of some not-as-fun drill work is not lost on the best pitchers. They know that the proper drills are designed to make them better and correct mistakes that will just be reinforced if all they do is pitch to a catcher. So first, do what might be less fun, but more effective. It makes the fun stuff even better!
Finally, don't just practice what you are good at! I get it. It feels great to be good at something. And practicing things that you are good at does serve a purpose as far as muscle memory is concerned. So don't let me stop you from doing purposeful, effective drills that you have mastered but please do the ones you struggle with even more! When I am giving a lesson and I identify an issue in a pitcher's motion I usually have a drill that addresses that issue at the ready. (It's not my first time at the rodeo) If I don't already have a drill, then I create one. And when she tries it the first few times well, she's more often than not, pretty terrible at it. My reaction is, "Perfect! This is great because if you were good at this right away that would tell me that we are doing the wrong the drill!." The purpose of the drill is to fix an error so rather than being a reinforcement, it should be a challenge. And nobody rises to a challenge more than a fastpitch softball pitcher!
At the gym this morning we had to do double unders, commonly known as D.U.s. For those who don't know, it is jumping rope but the rope goes under the body two times in one jump. I am so bad at double unders that it makes my tennis abilities look like those of a Williams sister. I simply can not do them - yet! My trainer gives me the option of doing of regular jumps. But the few times I have achieved the double under has gotten me hooked and so we decided that I should do twice the number of ATTEMPTS. The end result TODAY is that I am twice as tired and have jump rope marks on my shins from my misses. But in the future I have hope that I am going to be able to string D.U. after D.U., just like my trainer can. If I had chosen to do singles, well, then I would just be doing singles forever. Get it? So stop sitting around reading blogs and get out there and have a purposeful, productive and challenging practice.