Want Better Practices? Compete!


Why do kids love to play games? What is it about game day that gets the blood pumping and the heart beating? We see it with all players, in all sports and at all ages. Competition brings something out of players that might not otherwise be evident.


Okay, so we know kids love to compete. What does that mean for us as coaches?


Simple, find ways to make things competitive and you will get more out of your kids.


Practice is a dirty word many of our athletes dread hearing. Lessons are just a little bit different, but not really. Kids think of practice and lessons more like going to the dentist than something they want to be excited about. They know they have to do it, but it isn’t that much fun.


Anson Dorrance is the soccer coach at North Carolina. He’s coached the women’s National team and coached some of the greatest soccer players of all time. He has also written a couple of great coaching books that I strongly recommend to all coaches.


Now you can skip all the soccer stuff because that isn’t what makes these books must-reads. The must read part is the philosophy he shares about practice and competition.


Competition is the key. Coaches, find ways to make things in practice competitive. Dorrance talks about the competitive cauldron where everything is measured and everything is competitive. He uses the competition to make practice more effective but also to help measure who earns playing time. Everything is scored.


I have to admit that I got away from this idea as an instructor. But then something amazing happened. I ran a practice the other day and added in a purely competitive drill that earned the team chances to reduce the amount of conditioning they had to do after practice was completed. It was a simple target hitting drill, on steroids, where the target ball was at the far end of a long batting cage. Each time the ball was knocked off the tee by a hitter at the opposite end of the cage reduced the number of post-practice gassers.


What happened next was amazing. A team that I could tell had very little enthusiasm for practice came alive. They were working super hard to hit the target and taking tons of cuts to increase their chances. They were sprinting to pick up the balls when they ran out to get more opportunities to try to hit the target. They were engaged, they were cheering, they were having fun and they were working harder than I would have ever expected.


So this motivated me to think about the format of most of my lessons. My kids work hard but they don’t always have a twinkle in their eyes that tells me they are loving what they are doing that day.


I’ve made the mistake of being stubborn before but not this time!


We are now doing competitive things in every lesson. Some are simple challenges. Others are ways for a player to score and grade their performance in small sets so they can see their improvement and be motivated to work hard to out do what they did last time. They start out a little uncomfortable trying to judge themselves but they are getting better. And, of course, our lessons are much better and more fun.


Competition can be a great motivator. Take advantage of human nature on this one! Competition is a beautiful thing!


About the Author: Tory Acheson brings a wealth of knowledge to the Fastpitch Prep staff. He has coached at all levels of the game, including the last 25 years at the college level at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, Tennessee Tech and Kennesaw State. He began his coaching career at the high school level spending 9 years Whitnall High School in Greenfield, Wis. and is now working as a professional softball instructor.