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Mental Training Tips: Quality over Quantity in Practice

As a player progresses and begins to learn new skills within the game, most assume they must practice the skill over and over, many times. However, this is not entirely true. When an athlete begins to develop new skills, they usually have a very low level of “feeling awareness,” which means they are not sure what the process or execution of the skill should feel like. Herein lies the problem of thinking that doing lots of repetitions is helping develop the desire skill. Because, an athlete doesn’t really know what the proper execution feels like, they are quite possibly encoding an improper neural synaptic response, which will only make the time it takes to acquire the skill much longer.
This is why, when working with an athlete, doesn’t matter if it’s lacrosse or any other sport, I suggest to always beginning with a few repetitions, while focusing intently on the feeling of the movements of the skill. Continue doing repetitions, but if focus begins to wane, or if errors in execution onset, or if the repetitions become too casual. Stop. Take a break and then come back.
The objective of this quality practice, is to engrain the proper neural synaptic responses, so they are fast and efficient, which will aid in speed of skill acquisition. According to Mental Skills Coach, Dan Millman, quality practice is like gambling; you have to know when to quit. Therefore, when you find that you can consistently repeat the correct pattern of the skill movement, should you then begin to do many repetitions.
If you are working on improving your accuracy by improving your mechanics, and you are practicing a thousand wall ball drills, but only really pay attention to two hundred of them, then you’re wasting eight hundred throws a day; and in fact, those eight hundred haphazardly throws may be doing more harm than good.
Practice doesn’t make quality execution; only quality practice makes quality execution.
I need to point out, by incorporating this thinking into your training and practice, you may not learn things quickly, but you will learn them correctly! By taking the time to learn it right, you’ll save time in the long run, as you won’t have to spend the time re-learning the skill.
Mental Training Tip:
When working on skills or technique, as you progress during training, stop for a moment between each two to three attempts. Then do what I call a check-in. Take a deep breath, shake loose, and relax. Think about the feeling of the movements you just attempted, allow them to envelop throughout your body. Then continue and repeat.
Jared Ocana, M.S., is a Mental Skills Coach and Adjunct Faculty at Westminster College in the Human Performance and Wellness Department. Besides working with student-athletes at the school in 17 intercollegiate sports, Ocana also provides coaching and training to individual athletes along the Wasatch Front. To connect with Jared, or have questions or comments, visit his website: or follow him on Twitter: @MindCoach_O

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