Practice? We talkin’ bout practice?!

Everyday Is Training Day

Practice? We talkin’ bout practice?!

“We sitting in here — I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen: We talking about practice. Not a game. Not a game. Not a game. We talking about practice. Not a game. Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game. We talking about practice, man.”

Those were the now famous words Philadelphia 76er great Allen Iverson spoke during a press conference following the 2002 season. A rant now synonymous with the polarizing point guard. During my high school years there as always that one teammate who would go 100% during practice when unnecessary; we fondly referred to the individual as a “practice hero.”  Ironically, that was usually the teammate who never got any playing time and when given the opportunity performed well below his practice persona.  In hindsight, and now being a coach myself, I appreciated effort in practice but I also understand the perspective that must go along with it.

Effort in itself is absolutely necessary to get better.   Effort combined with discipline, consistency and persistence is a recipe for greatness.   There is a time and place to go HAM (hard as a mother f*cker) in the weight room in the effort to be bigger, faster, stronger.  There is also an equally important time to scale back dissect form and function to promote progress.  There is a time to go HAM on the thai pads and heavy bag.  Going HAM on your partner during sparring….not so much.

The difference between the practice hero and someone who is training hard is that the hero exhibits a tendency toward trying to win practice.  I’ve literally heard students say “I beat everybody today” after a practice.  I cringe.

None of this is condoning not training with a lot of intensity.  Just the opposite in fact.  I am very much in favor of such sessions.  Anyone who has ever taken any class of mine understands I do not like a lot of talking and socializing during a training sessions.  It’s an hour to buckle down and focus on the task of perfecting your art and honing skills.

Here’s the issue.  Jordan Peterson dissects it perfectly in his book 12 Rules For Life wiht his 4th rule that people should never compare themselves to others, the only effective comparison is against the previous version of yourself.  Self-criticism and awareness are crucial to progress and development but comparison to others is a slippery slope.  If you think you are always winning in practice an alarm should go off and red flag raised.  If by winning you mean you got the better of someone you need to first understand if that person was also trying to win.  Was this a true apples to apples comparison?  If not then your sense of winning is under false pretense.  It’s the equivalent of two people wrestling and one deciding to throw a punch then walk of the mat celebrating a knockout.  Good job Rocky but your KO is a hollow victory.

The thought of always winning brings a propensity to think everything is working well and there is no need to improve.  When winning is the only bar then self-reflection tends not to occur and continuous improvement ceases; we stop looking at things with a 360 degree viewpoint and focus on the win as the only measure.  Very rarely is growth and improvement stimulated without setbacks and failures. 

I always say complacency is the kiss of death.

Shari Redstone

Comfort breeds complacency.  When winning is the only metric and the perception of winning is constant we get comfortable.  All is fine and dandy.   If you have never failed then you have never truly challenged yourself.  Growth happens by continually putting yourself in situations that test your abilities and afford potential for failure.  To get stronger more weight must be put on the bar.

Now, I know the question is being asked, “What if I am the best in the room?  What if really nobody can beat me?”  Before you ask this question, have you squared up with everyone on equal footing with the understanding everyone is all in going for the gold?  If that answer is yes then it’s time to find a new room OR time to learn how to train more intelligently with what you have. Sometimes you are the best and aren’t being pushed; the reality is it’s time to move on. It’s only a bad thing if you stay and continue to convince yourself you are getting better. Unfortunately, many students perceive themselves as having outgrown a gym (practice hero) when they really haven’t. But that’s OK too. There are many reason to move from a gym…that’s for another article.

On the flip side, there is value in staying and by that I mean it’s time to check your ego and adjust your training to the level of partners you have to work with.  I can get just as good training in a room full of white belts as I can with as many black belts.  Why?  Because I adjust the training to put myself in the worst possible position and them in the best.  Don’t think you can train with a bunch of white belt beginners?  Let them all take your back with one arm around your neck, tell each one to choke you come hell or high water.  Now let’s see how good you are at escaping.   In class with a group of inexperienced kickboxers?  OK, spar with them only using your jab while they are afforded use of all their tools; better yet tell them you are only going to use the jab.

If you are winning at practice you are losing the bigger fight.  Keep your training in proper perspective.  Compare yourself to the version of a year ago before you compare it to a fellow student and teammate.  This will serve you much better in the long run and help maintain a sense of humility at the same time.

Everyday Is Training Day!