“Determined Practice”

“Determined Practice”

by Nick Wingbermuehle

In my last article, I said that there is no such thing as a natural talent to throw a baseball fast. How can I be so sure? A book titled Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin brought together research on the topic of natural talent. After researching top performers in different fields, he concluded that natural talent does not exist. Instead, the only way to become a world-class performer was through hours of “determined practice.”
Determined practice is a highly involved, mentally taxing practice. Determined practice is different than what most people do when they play sports. For example, many times when I play basketball, I just casually shoot without much thought. I try to make sure every time that I practice pitching, however, that I make it determined practice. I try to throw the ball to a particular spot on each throw. I try to feel how my mechanics may be changing and how to correct problems when they arise. Throwing a bullpen is an intense experience for me because my mind is very involved. Usually, I take fifteen minutes to get back to a “normal” state of mind after throwing.
Tiger Woods is the best golfer on the planet. How did he get to this point? Tiger’s father was retired when Tiger was young. His Dad combined his love of golf, free time, and desire to be with his son by coaching Tiger for hours each day. Tiger Woods was getting hours of practice each day at an age when many of the other golfers that he now competes against may have not practiced one hour per week. He does not have special natural talent, but has practiced many more hours than his peers.
While Mr. Colvin correctly states that determined practice is the only way to become a world-class performance, I believe that to make the activity enjoyable, you need to have relaxed practice sometimes too. During fall practice this year, I was so focused on turning every moment into determined practice, that I almost burned out. Baseball was not fun. Like many things in life, determined practice needs a balance.
So, what does this mean for coaches? Coaches can articulate the importance of determined practice to their players and structure practice in such a way that facilitates it. Our Florida trip this year shows the importance of structured practice. The first day we played, coach did not assign hitting groups or give pitchers specific duties. While everyone tried to get ready to play, the lack of organization before the game led to a game-time feeling that was intense enough. The second day, coach had hitting groups and gave the pitchers specific PFP drills to accomplish. Everyone felt much more prepared at game-time and it showed in our play. If just one day of practice can make that big of a difference, imagine what a whole season can do for a team.
Coach Nicollerat always did a great job of structuring practices so that each player had a responsibility at all times. No one stood around doing nothing. Practice was also fun because we never spent too much time on any one thing. We knew that we had to make each drill count because we were going to move onto the next one quickly. Without even realizing it, each practice at SLUH was a “determined practice” because of the great structure that Coach Nicollerat put into place.

Nick Wingbermuehle

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