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'Practice makes perfect' is complete bulls$%t


Practising to do something at game speed is the best way to prepare yourself for competition (Photo courtesy Isabelle Cornell)

‘Practice makes perfect,’ was a familiar refrain of my youth. I heard it constantly, and it seems to me, most often in a high, singsong voice that seems to me reminds me alternately of my mother at her most irritating and The Harry Potter character Dolores Umbridge at her saccharine worst.

Worst part of that statement? It’s a bullshit statement.

It is absolute horsefeathers.


When I was 10, I loved tennis. I practiced constantly hitting the ball against the side of my house, and the side of the chalet at the park, and against the wall of the school, depending on the day, and I hit. I hit and I hit and I hit. Hours at a time, I would get up on a Sunday morning and pretend I was Stefan Edberg or Boris Becker (I never, ever pretended I was world #1 Ivan Lendl. Boooorrringggg). But despite putting in what felt like thousands of hours of practice, I didn’t get better, because no one was there to tell me to not follow through like I was hitting a home run in baseball, or messing up y footwork, or stepping with the wrong foot, because no one was there to coach me or to push me to go outside my comfort zone to improve.


I never did go professional in tennis, though.


Flash forward a seven or eight years later, I’m playing football for the CEGEP AAA John Abbott Islanders and our head coach, Bob Bindon, is giving us the spiel of how practice doesn’t make perfect, but instead how perfect practice makes perfect. I’m only half listening at the time because I’m 17 and I couldn’t care less what the coach has to say.

‘I want to go eat something,’ is what I was thinking. Fair enough. I was an offensive lineman, after all.


But that statement didn’t compute until a few years later when, in 1998 at Concordia University we were practising for the Vanier Cup and we were looking to imitate Saskatchewan’s defence in our practices and we put our defensive starters in as the scout team because athletically, they gave our offense a better, faster look than our regular defensive backups, who usually pulled scout-team duties. Well, it almost worked. But in the game, the defence we saw was not too much for us to handle because we had practices at a speed and tempo that approximated game speed. If your body has never had to make decisions under duress at high rates of speed, then you will simply not be in a position to do it in competition.


Something else Coach B said that also stuck with me (how that happened is seriously beyond me; fair to say the head coach and I did not get along) was that if you practice slowly and crappy, you will play slow and crappy. (I’m paraphrasing liberally here). Since I became a coach, I have come to realize what he meant, and to this day I emphasize to the boys I coach – no matter the sport, no matter the level – that they can go one of two ways: they can have easy practices that don’t challenge them at all, and hard games that aren’t any fun to play in, or the inverse is also true. That hard practices that challenge them and prepare them adequately for competition can make the games a lot of fun to play in.


The will to win is present in everyone. It’s the will to prepare that sets the champions apart from the also-rans in the world of football, or anything else for that matter.

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