How to Play Like You Practice

6th October 2023
Read time: 3 mins 50 secs

“You’re like a different player in training compared to games.”

I would hear this from my coaches and teammates: that what I was producing in training was different (better) than what I produced in a game. I was faster, more accurate, and more effective!

What was going on?

At the time I didn’t want to admit it, but I now know what it was:

  • Performance anxiety
  • Not practicing with purpose.
  • Not having a process to rely on.

A big part of the reason is that people practice better than they play is because there’s less pressure and less consequence of things going wrong.

And that’s fine, because practice is a place we should be getting things wrong, where we can make mistake and learn from them.

But if the practice is too easy, too often, then we won’t be able to replicate what we are experiencing in a game – which is very tough to replicate, but we can try to get close.

So if you think this is something you experience, know someone you know might experience it or coach someone who does. Here are three steps to try to change that.

Step 1: Have a process.

Poor performance tends to happen when you get distracted from your process and mis-execute it.

Your process is a set of actions you execute to get the desired outcome.

It’s a vital part to any performance because while there’s so many things not in your control. This one is that is in our control. Having more control brings a sense of confidence.

Make sure you have your process in order.

For example, for me in games I wasn’t as accurate as I was in training.

So as a part of my process, I needed to understand what I was doing that got me to bowl the ball in a specific spot.

Getting your process going takes some time—trying new things, learning, and adapting.

I would do this by placing markers on the ground. And as a part of my technical process, I’d understand what I elements I did that allowed me to hit the markers.

Then I repeated it over and over again to confirm it. And there it was. A process.

Your process is your go-to for when you perform; it should form the bedrock of your performance.

That way, you have a guide as to what you are practicing and also something to focus on when under pressure.

If you’re looking to create a process: Listen/Watch Episode 169 on How to Create a Process.

Step 2: Purposeful practice

Many people think that hard work means good results.

If you subscribe to the 10,000 hours rule, you might think, “I haven’t put the hours in yet” or “I just need more time”. And while this might be true, it’s not that simple.

Those who have benefited from the 10,000-hour rule will have (at some stage) practiced with purpose.

That is to have an intention into what you’re trying to achieve in practice sessions.

You aren’t practicing for practice sake.

You are selecting a focus that you can control, and maybe even measure, so that at the end (regardless of outcome), you can tell whether it was a good practice (the focus goal was achieved or not).

For me, it was to then hit the markers on the pitch when I was bowling, repetitively focusing on my process to hit them. Or to move them around and learn new ways of executing my process. Maybe it was about trying something new and being intentional about understanding it.

The point being that before every training session, I encourage athletes to write out what their goal is in this session, how they might measure it, and then do a quick review at the end before planning the goal for the next session.

I’ve created templates to follow which are found in the MindStrong Mindset Toolkitrefer one person to this newsletter to unlock it.

Step 3: Apply pressure

The reason we do this is to stress how robust everything is.

We want to see if it holds up when it matters.

As I mentioned, anxiety, pressure, and stressful situations are what distract us from our process and focus.

Practicing under pressure is a component of feeling more confident in pressurised situations.

While you can never truly replicate that exact pressure moment you might experience, you can get fairly close, and doing something is better than nothing.

This is where you can be creative.

You can create scenarios that are similar to what you want to experience. Essentially, the goal is to create a higher level of anxiety.

You can do this through distractions, consequences, rewards (or loss of rewards), peer pressure, and judgement.

Again, don’t get caught up on results or outcome.

Purely rate the training on how well you were able to stick to your process, stay in control, and focus.

Not every session needs to be under pressure; you might need to focus on building your skills, honing your process, and creating purposeful practice.

I tend to prescribe that every 5th training session has some form of pressure scenario put into it and see how that goes to begin with.

All of this isn’t something that will be a silver bullet to your answers.

It requires practice, repetition, development, tweaks here and there. But hopefully after a while you’ll start to see the level that you display in practice out there in competition.

See you next week!

Whenever you're ready, there is a couple of ways I can help you:

MindStrong Sport App – Mental Skills Training for Athletes

Personal Mindset Coaching - Contact for more

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