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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Slow and Right

Practice planning is a part of sports coaching that some coaches don't do, others don't enjoy but I absolutely love! It's the bit where it feels like the problem solving happens; I've watched the games or the scrimmages, I've reviewed the film with other coaches, and collectively, we've identified the gaps. Where are we strong and where do we need to get stronger? And from there, I build a plan to take us one step closer to our goals; how will we spend our next two hours of contact time with the players, to bridge those gaps? What, specifically will we do with them as individuals, small positional groups and larger units, to embed and hone the skills and understanding to take that next step forward?

A very big part of how the teams I've led have practiced, is that we focus heavily on fundamentals. In American Football, especially in Britain, too many coaches obsess over scheme and playbooks. What offense will we run? Wishbone? Flexbone? I Form? How about a spread offense? Some Air Raid concepts thrown in there maybe? These ideas and schemes are exciting and interesting and they add an intellectual aspect to the sport, which allows people to debate and discuss and position themselves as sages in the community. The truth is, however, that it is VERY rare, especially at the levels I work at, that scheme and playbooks determine the winner in games. Almost every time, it comes down to fundamentals - the winning team is the one which can block, tackle, catch and throw the most effectively and consistently.

And so, naturally, that understanding and recognition is reflected in my practice plans, and on my plans you will typically see a section called Stations; where every player on the team hones these fundamentals; even the ones which are not typically a part of their job. Offensive Linemen, whose job is blocking defenders to create lanes for the running backs and protecting the quarterback when we want to throw the ball, work on their tackling skills. They might not need these often, but if they play on special teams, or if we throw an interception, these players will be called upon to make tackles and if they have't drilled it, the chances of them doing it successfully and safely are low.

On that section of the practice plan, you will also see the mantra I use when fundamentals are the focus: Slow and right, not fast and shite! That's one for the coaches, and not the kids, and it always raises a smile when new staff see a plan for the first time, but it's catchy, memorable and it's important. When you're working on your fundamentals, it's not about doing it fast and terribly, it's about bringing the speed down so that you get it right, and build good form and technique. That might be about reducing the speed and then slowly bringing it up. It might be about reducing the complexity, using a whole-part-whole teaching approach to focus on the individual components of a skill, or it might be something more novel, to ensure you're helping your players embed high quality execution.

In Practice Perfect, Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi put it succinctly: "As a rule of thumb, we use the following goal for practice: you want your participants to complete the fastest possible right version of the activity"

In business and in other parts of our lives, just as in sports, there are fundamentals. Things that we need to do effectively and consistently if we are going to be successful. Maybe in your world that's prospecting clients. Sending emails looking for business. Making cold sales calls. Pitching. Giving presentations. Running meetings. Writing reports. Managing a diary. Structing a coaching session. Having difficult conversations. And maybe these are things that we don't do very often, but when we do, we'd BETTER get them right; moments that matter, like performance management meetings, annual reviews, speaking to a colleague about their mental health, announcing restructures and redundancies. In our lives outside of work too; speaking to our partner about money. Telling someone we love them. Asking for or offering help so that it lands right. But how often do we prepare for, or practice doing these things? Running an email past a colleague before we send. Practicing a conversation. Doing a run through of a speech with a small sample audience before we do live. Taking the speed, the complexity and the pressure down a notch. Doing it SLOW and RIGHT, so that when it really matters, we're delivering at our very best.

What are the fundamentals you're neglecting, in your work and in your life? If you lead a team, what are the five things that each person in that team needs to be awesome at, if the team is to be a success? And how can you spend more time honing them?

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