Practice Makes Perfect

Fall is here and we’re stocking up on firewood, cooking soups, raking leaves, and watching football.   As I write this, Tom is addressing the citizens of the town he grew up in at the homecoming community pep rally for the local high school football team. He was in town to celebrate his 40th year high school reunion where his classmates have also asked him to give a speech. I was surprised at how nervous he felt about it. Good thing he’s married to a speech coach!

He’s nervous because he wants to do a good job. He cares about the people he’s presenting to and they’ve honored him by selecting him for this occasion. He doesn’t do this all the time and he hasn’t had a whole lot of time to prepare so it feels slightly uncomfortable. We can all relate on some level.

When we are trying to learn a new skill or get better at one we know… practice is the key. But who has time? And who loves to “role play?” Most would rather stick a pencil in their eye.

But, there’s no way out. Practice is how we build the muscle memory of anything we want to strengthen. Case in point: In our Leaders of the Pride Leadership Workshop, we spend a good amount of time learning about how to have Courageous Conversations. I outline the simple framework and teach the process. I demonstrate it with people in the room. Then, because there is so much I want to cover with the group… I would move on to new material. But I discovered in my workshop debriefs that this was the most important skill they came to learn. I had taught it and they had heard it but … they had not really learned it. What was missing was practice.

In the last workshop, I asked for a volunteer to try it on. One popped up right away (there’s always one!) and she did pretty well but when she received feedback from the group, she was surprised at how many steps she had missed. She said, “This seemed so easy but now I can see I’ll need more practice to really have it become and feel like my natural response.”

The truth is… it is easy. But, its new. So as master trainers, we now put the group to practice with only one step at a time, adding steps along the way as they got stronger and stronger. By the time the session was over, you could feel the sense of accomplishment and mastery in the room. The amount of practice makes the difference.

The same was true for Tom. He nailed his pep rally speech because we spent several nights practicing. While looking for a quote for him to use, I ran across this one by Frank Leahy: “Lads, you’re not to miss practice unless your parents died, or you did.” For winning coaches and teams, practice is everything.

What skills do you wish your team performed better? What skills do you wish came more naturally to you? The steps that make practice work are:

  • Break the skill down into small steps and layer them on as you gain traction.
  • Remember this is practice… not performance. Make it okay to fail and start over as many times as you need.
  • Don’t start (or let anyone else start) with the hardest examples first. Begin with the simplest and easiest and then add on the complexities as people’s confidence rises.
  • Make it a habit. Create 10-15 minutes at every team meeting to practice a skill so that practice becomes common place and a team sport instead of a rare and scary event.

If you want to improve the way you help people practice essential skills, learn to coach your people more effectively, or really nail your Courageous Conversations in business and life, consider joining us in San Diego next month for our Leaders of the Pride workshop. We have a few seats left… You and your team will be glad you did!


“Practice puts brains in your muscles.”

~Sam Snead

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