Tag Archives: track

Practicing With A Plan

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In yesterday’s post, “When Less Really Is More,” I stated that my next post would be on focused practice. I already established that without consistent practice no one in sports or any other activity will improve beyond their current level. I found, through a lot of trial and error, that consistent practice is not enough. It must be combined with focused practice to break off whatever plateau you are currently on.

Going back to the jiu-jitsu analogy from my earlier post, I used to train like a madman. While I got better it was at a very incremental rate and I was still getting tapped by the same moves class after class. Enter Uncle Craig. Uncle Craig is not really my uncle, but he was a great role model for a young teenager. He was also extremely analytical, which is no coincidence that he worked as an Industrial Organizational Psychologist. He came to Tiger Academy after I had been training for three years and quickly moved up the belt rankings. He became the dominate jiu-jitsu practitioner whenever we rolled (the jiu-jitsu word for wrestle), and I was more than a little stunned that he moved from getting tapped by me to regularly beating me with innovative wrist and leg locks.

Here I was, seventeen years old, getting beat by a guy almost in his thirties who started training much later than I did. How the heck was he beating me? Why was he so darn good? Simple – he had a plan for every class and every roll.

Craig carried around a ubiquitous notebook to every class and made notes whenever our lead instructor went over a move. He moved around so he could better see the instructor demonstrating a very tiny, but crucial detail to a submission’s success, and he kept track of every time he got tapped or tapped someone else. He also noted what submissions he tapped someone with and the ones that he was most susceptible to. When he got home he would enter his notes into a computer program that he designed which tracked what he was doing well at and what needed the most work. I trained with Craig for almost two and a half years and I never saw him without his notebook.

It took me until 2010 to fully apply Craig’s data entry method, but instead of jiu-jitsu I put it towards improving as a lacrosse official. Every lacrosse official I work with will tell you that I am rarely far away from my brown leather three-ring binder. This binder holds a printout of the current season’s NFHS and NCAA rules for easy reading, a laminated sheet of every GLOA official’s contact information, and, most importantly, a lot of notebook paper.

I write down self-evaluations constantly because I do not have the benefit of practice like players or jiu-jitsu practitioners. Officials train themselves in the classroom and then prove themselves on the field, but until virtual reality simulations are developed for sports officials the best way we have to practice is constantly marking how we are doing.

Since I can’t practice calling a game like a player would practice shooting, I use every game to practice one or two things at a time. Typically I focus on a mechanic that I didn’t get quite right in my earlier game which I wrote down in my “needs work” section on my three-ring binder.  For example, whenever a lacrosse official throws his flag he is supposed to yell, “Flag down!” This informs everyone who may not have seen the flag that there is a flag. Every few games I get a little lax about yelling “flag down,” so I note it down and make it a priority for me to do the next game. Predictably, the more I make it a priority the less I forget to yell it.

I don’t write down just my mistakes or omissions either. It is critically important to keep track of what I did well and what my state of mind was during the game. If I had a poor game, my notes are not absent a reason for that poor game. I might have been sick, had a rough day at work or a personal issue that was sticking in my mind. Keeping track of how you feel during whatever activity you are trying to improve on is a huge data point that often goes missed. Let’s face it we all have bad days, so it is important to keep them in mind when looking at a game with a lot of negative marks in it.

That is how I practice my officiating and how I made it deeper into the postseason every year since my second year. I don’t just practice, I practice with purpose.

Lacrosse players, violinists, computer programmers, and virtually every other skilled activity or job can be improved on with consistent, focused practice. Here are a few ways that a youth lacrosse player can track himself and work his way to a new plateau of ability:

  • Write down exactly what you want to accomplish each practice session
    • Not – pick up ground balls better, but – “I plan on bending my legs more on every ground ball in practice today and keeping my stick almost parallel to the ground.”
  • Set attainable goals
    • Not – I’m going to do 100 wall ball repetitions as fast as I can, but – “I plan on doing twenty wall ball repetitions with my left and right hand as perfectly as I can and as fast as I can with good form.”
  • Write down everything
    • Not – I was terrible at shooting today, but – “I had a really bad day at school and I didn’t pay attention well in my shooting drills. Tomorrow I will try to pay attention better by putting everything but shooting out of my mind.”
  • Get composition notebooks
    • If you don’t want to shell out money for a brown leather three-ring binder I highly suggest multiple composition notebooks. Different colors for different skills that you are working on.
  • Don’t focus on at least one practice session
    • I don’t mean go mess around during practice, but it is good for the mind to take a break from regimented practice. Go try out a new stick trick, or an unorthodox face-off move. You may never use it during a game, but an unfocused and relaxed practice will be a good reward for a week’s worth of focused, planned practice.

There is no substitute for consistent, focused practice. Develop a plan that works for you, but above all have a plan!


Personal Best

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Yesterday a truly astonishing moment happened to me. I ran one mile faster than I ever had before.

At 9:30 in the morning I had the cardiorespiratory test for Strength Training at Kennesaw State University. The test was simple. Run 1.5 miles as fast as you can. I slipped my Vibram Five-Fingers onto my feet and prepared for some pain. Breathing deeply at the start I took off at a modest pace as my body acclimated to the physical stress. After 7 1/2 laps around the Campus Green I clocked in with a time of 11:55. A fairly respectable time but I did not feel tired. In fact I was pissed off at myself because I felt I could have pushed harder on the last two or three laps. Fortunately this disappointment would not last for long.

Right after the cardio test I walked to my second class Walk/Jog for Fitness. I know, you are as astonished as I am that walking and jogging is a college class. Personally I cannot wait for Eating/Sleeping for Fitness next year. Everyone checked in at the classroom and we headed out to the Campus Green for yet another cardiorespiratory test! This time we were only running a timed mile of 4.25 laps around the green. This was a truly unique opportunity for me. My legs were still warm from the earlier test and I knew I could push myself harder, but there was a problem.

As I walked to the green my feet started hurting. Two well developed blisters on each of my feet threatened to put an end to my run that day. So instead of suffering I took off my Vibram’s and decided to run the mile completely barefoot. Toes on the cool concrete I slammed my hand against my watch and I was off.

Lap one and two were getting into the groove. Stuck behind a track guy and an ROTC guy in full workout gear I used them to keep my pace as high as I could for two laps. Crossing into lap three I kicked into another gear. I passed by the ROTC runner and settled in behind the track guy. Halfway through lap three I still had not tapped into my reserves so I drove harder. Passing the track guy I saw the start of lap four coming up. I told myself I was going to sprint the last lap as hard as I could. Once my foot crossed the line I started pumping my arms and breathing deep. Staying on the balls of my feet I charged forward dodging around people on the green. With a half lap to go I was hurting but I still had more to give. I dug a little deeper and found untapped energy in my legs. That carried me through to a quarter lap away from the finish. At this point my breath was ragged, my legs on fire, and my face contorted in agony. I wanted to leave all of myself on that last quarter lap. I ran harder than I thought I ever could and crossed the line with a time of 5 minutes and 40 seconds. My new personal best.

Here is the problem. Now that I have a new personal best I have to strive to beat it again. It may be next week, next month, or next year but I now have to strive each day to get past that best. With that in mind ask yourself what are your personal bests right now and how can you exceed them? Do you want to lift more weight? Do you want to get and A on the next test instead of an 88? Do you want to spend more time with your children or your spouse? Well the only way that will happen is if you commit yourself to doing it. Write down what you want to do better. It does not have to be a big thing it only has to be big to you. Then, once you reach it try and to go further. Who knows you might even surprise yourself at how good you can be.


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