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Practice Wrong, Perform Wrong

Written by Kelly Riggs, Founder of Business LockerRoom

There’s an old adage that says, “Practice makes perfect.”

Of course, that’s not right.

As the venerable Vince Lombardi said: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

As it turns out, you can spend a lot of time practicing and actually be hurting yourself.

I’ve had a chance to see that first-hand. Having spent many years coaching kids’ football, I had lots of opportunities to see how other coaches run practice sessions during the week.

You would be amazed at how many coaches go directly to “team” practice – that is, 11-on-11, full scrimmage. To understand the problems this creates – or, if you’re not familiar with football (or football practice) – this is akin to the actors in a Broadway play practicing the entire play, from Day 1, with people who may or may not know the lines or the choreography. Instead of blocking scenes, practicing lines, and working on choreography, the actors go straight to full rehearsal (for more information on “blocking” a scene, read THIS). So, a typical football practice for a young kid (think 3rd through 7th grade) would include a warm-up and some stretching, followed by some general drills like sprints and agility exercises. Then, there might – MIGHT – be more specific drills: blocking, tackling, and ball drills (throwing and catching). 

After that – 30 to 40 minutes into practice – a lot of coaches would go directly to practicing plays with a full offense and defense.

The problem with this kind of approach should be obvious. Team performance doesn’t improve until individual players improve, which, by definition, would require much more individual practice.

Sequence is Important

As a college football player, I was exposed to truly effective practice sessions.

Warm-up. Stretch. Agility drills. Then, individual ball skills. Receivers, for example (the position I played), throw and catch with QBs. They practice specific routes. They practice catching passes from different angles, with one hand, facing the QB, over the shoulder, and much more.

Depending on the position, there was extensive blocking or tackling practice, with every conceivable game possibility included in the practice. For instance, a lineman might practice zone blocking, pull blocking, doubleteams, and much more, with application to specific plays the team runs.

Then, it was on to group practice. Groups of players worked against other groups. The offensive line practiced against defensive linemen. Receivers worked against defensive backs. Quarterbacks and running backs worked together against linebackers and defensive ends.

It was in this part of practice that the connection between individual skills and specific plays were created. Players learned how their individual roles created success in a specific play. Compare that with the average employee who toils away in a cubicle, often in complete obscurity, with little understanding of his/her role in the success of the company.

Then, after all of that individual and group practice, it was finally time for “team” practice.

But, realize that by this point, each player understands his role in the play. He has practiced the individual skills that allow him to excel in that particular play. He has worked on footwork, recognition and reaction, blocking and tackling, and much more.

The point to all of this is that sequence is important. Players (employees) have to perfect individual skills before they can excel within the “team” framework.

Unfortunately, few companies provide that type of practice environment.

In sales, for example, a salesperson needs to learn how to interview, ask questions, get referrals, respond to objections, present dozens of different solutions, tell compelling stories, present pricing, and so much more. But how many salespeople actually practice these things before they go LIVE in front of a customer??

Those companies that actually provide some level of training are often guilty of exactly the same mistake that amateur football coaches commit – they go straight to full-on sales presentations without any thought to the individual skills that will make those presentations more effective.

That’s where Rehearsal becomes incredibly invaluable.

First, it eliminates the objection of working in front of peers; employees can practice in the privacy of an office or at home.

Second, it allows managers to practice on specific individual skills before going live with a customer.

Finally, it allows employees to practice over and over until it’s right. And then they can continue to practice to stay sharp or to adapt to change.

Remember, all practice is not created equal.

Individual practice is critical. Sequence of practice makes a huge difference.

And, most importantly, perfect practice is what creates perfect execution.

About the Author

Kelly Riggs

A sales strategist and leadership coach, Kelly is uniquely qualified to help businesses improve performance. He is a former two-time national Salesperson of the Year, a successful entrepreneur, and a highly acclaimed teacher and business coach. He is the author of “1-on-1 Management: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t” and “Quit Whining and Start SELLING: A Step-by-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career in Sales.”