“Practice makes perfect” is one of those sayings I can remember my parents telling me as a child, whether I was tying my shoes, learning to ride a bike, working on my jump shots, the awful attempts to parallel park, to perfecting my golf swing. It is a phrase most of us have heard and will take with us throughout our entire lives.
So even though we have heard it a million times, is it something we are instilling in our youth today?
In the world of recreational athletics, how do we get participants to commit to practice? After speaking to coaches from all walks of life, travel, school, recreation and volunteer the conversation is the same: Kids don’t come to practice because there is a mandatory play rule or they are too good for coaches not to play them. Or when some do come they don’t give 100 percent because they are tired or don’t want to be there; or even worse, mom and dad are making them come to practice.
Everyone wants to play in the games but we have lost the work ethic along the way. Practice has become an afterthought and players feel like they deserve to play, even though they don’t always put in the work.
So how do we fix the problem? No longer require mandatory play, bench the good players and make the team suffer?
The reality is the culture and vision behind youth sports has to change. We want participants to play because it is fun and they love the sport, but they also need to be taught that when you commit to something, you are not just showing up to play in the games. Parents need to instill this mentality in their kids, coaches need to stop only playing the good players instead of those who came and put in the work, and players need to learn that practice is where you become a team.
The next wave of youth athletes needs to come with a commitment to practice and play. Coaches need to set expectations and standards from the beginning, and follow through. Administrators need to back coaches and support their decisions, as long as they line up with the scope of the league.
But parents are the biggest support system when it comes to practice, and they have to buy into the importance of teamwork and showing up for your teammates, and to the idea that “practice makes perfect.”
Tory Miller Mocock is the Athletic Program Manager for the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department in North Carolina. She is also a Certified Youth Sports Administrator and a member of the CYSA Leadership Committee, which is a group of recreation professionals that provides support and direction for community youth sports programs nationwide.