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Why Your Practices Might Not Be Helping Your Players

Have you ever watched your team practice great only to have them flounder around during the next game like they’ve never played softball before? There’s most likely a reason, but it isn’t what you think.

If you’re like most coaches you like to have nice looking, well-run practices but what if I told you that could be the problem. Read on and I’ll tell you why.

As coaches, we’ve been brainwashed to believe that our practices should be crisp, clean affairs that run smoothly without any problems. And yet games are the complete opposite.

We know that how we practice is how we play, but if that’s the case then how come our players play poorly when they practiced so well? The answer lies is in a concept called Block and Random Practice.

It goes like this:

  • BLOCK Practice involves doing skills over and over in a repetitive, block-like fashion. It’s what most of us do and what most of us have grown up with. We’ve been led to believe it leads to muscle-memory and is necessary for mastery of any skill.
  • block random practice skills order onesy twosey quantity repetitive skills
  • RANDOM Practice is just what it sounds like, it’s all about doing skills in random order and in onesy, twosey quantities. This kind of practice is messy, can be frustrating for your players and yet has a HUGE carry over to the game. Skills within games more closely resemble Random Practice vs the typical Block Practice.

The following chart shows the characteristics of both types of practices. BLOCK looks more orderly and because your players do a specific skill 10 to 15 times it makes it look like they’re getting better. And, they are, after 13 reps. But just keep in mind the game won’t let them take 13 reps before actually hitting that riseball. Repetitions can be calming to many players, but, they’re also boring which means your players don’t have to be mentally engaged. And finally, any skill learned in this Block practice style is rather fragile, which means it’s temporary – defiantly NOT the kind of learning you’re intending your practices to create. It also explains why players can look so good in practice and yet not do those same skills well in a game.

block random concept limit repetitions varying skills players think resemble games

On the other hand, RANDOM practice looks messy and so it can be disruptive for many of your players. But because these types of practices are challenging they require players to think more and involve their brains. Games require our players to do one skill followed by another skill, followed by a completely different skill – this is the concept behind Random Practice. You’re limiting the number of repetitions and varying the kinds of skills your players are doing to more closely resemble how they’ll use those skills in a game.

If you’re adventurous and willing to move your practices more towards the Random type, do it a little bit at a time. Instead of changing everything overnight and totally blowing your player’s minds, start small and change part of your Block practice into Random. Let you players know why you’re doing it and how it will help them do better in games (even thought it might not feel like it during practice).

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