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I play well in practice but not in games?

Why do you if your a player, or your child if your a parent, do so well in practice but can’t carry it into the game? For many players, practice provides an opportunity to relax from the pressure to perform and just let loose with their skills. Players that thrive in a non-game atmosphere are usually focused on accomplishing small goals that practices provide.  For instance, if you take any baseball drill or gimmick that’s out there, there is usually a simple and attainable goal to accomplish.  How many times have you heard,  “there you go, you got it now” or “you were doing this, and now you’re doing this”.  Just do a thousand reps and voila, you are “fixed”.  The fact of the matter is we can’t do these drills or use these gimmicks in games.  At least not the same way as we practice them, remember that saying, “practice how you play”.  This is not an attempt to discredit drills or baseball tools but the instructors/coaches and makers of the gimmicks are forgetting one very important thing, how do players actually apply this in games.  Old school coaches believe in reps, reps, reps and force it into muscle memory.  Then there are some coaches that will put a gimmick or two to work in hopes of finding a shortcut to muscle memory.  If memory is what athletes are relying on for game time performance, then we need to understand what prompts those memories.  When successful athletes compete at the highest levels, some would say there is little thinking going on and mostly reaction.  Rather than assuming that elite athletes have advanced memory cells in their muscles, perhaps their reactions are pre-determined by simple goals and the results of those reactions lead to success in their sport.  For example,  If a player practices 500 perfect swings per day off the tee, then it would seem like muscle memory is taking place and success is inevitable.  But when that same players steps in the batters box on game day, he is no longer in his controlled environment and a million thoughts start racing through his head.  None of those thoughts were there during his 500 swings so none of the thoughts cue the muscle memory.  If that same player practices 300 swings with a simple goal in mind such as driving the ball to a specific area in the opposite gap, then muscle memory is learned and lead by a cue (game plan).  Now that player can step into the batters box with the same simple cue and allow muscle memory to take over.  No, it doesn’t mean he will drive every ball into the gap but it will put him in a favorable mental and physical state to succeed. The best part of having a game plan is the boost of confidence it gives players to let loose during the games.  If your son struggles to apply what he practices into games, ask him what he is thinking during practice sessions.  Make him vocalize his thoughts so he can use them to cue muscle memory.  When I work with players, I often stop them after they do something good and ask what they were thinking.  Most of the time its something simple and I just repeat that back to them.  One mistake we make as parents and coaches is trying to use our words to fix a player when its their own words that they hear during the games.

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