How to practice properly at home: a sport psychologist's guide


How to practice properly at home: a sport psychologist's guide

With sport taking a backseat for a while, many of you will be trying to practice at home. No matter what sport you play, practicing at home can be a really useful way to sharpen parts of your game. But, depending on what you’re doing, you might not actually be helping yourself improve as much as you think. To avoid this, we thought we’d give you a few tips…

We previously wrote a blog about how to maximise your training so make sure to check that out too.

Amount or Type?

Often, people misunderstand previous psychology research and say that you need to practice for 10,000 hours to be an expert. Whilst the amount of practice you do certainly helps, what’s more important is the type of practice that you are doing.

Broadly speaking, this can be split in three ways:

Blocked

Blocked practice is doing the same thing over and over again. For example, a golfer hitting lots of the same chip shots into a net. This is really useful for improving or ingraining a technique. However, this technique isn’t as good for skill retention (making a lasting impact) and doesn’t hold up as well when you are under pressure (like in a match).

Deliberate

Deliberate practice is engaging in a structured practice that is specially created to improve performance, with a specific goal in mind. Research suggests that this can be one of the most effective types of practice.

Random practice

Random practice is essentially what it says on the tin. This means mixing up what you are doing and when you do it. For example, mixing up the order and types of putts you might be practicing, or mixing up the type of freekicks and penalties you are practicing. This practice is really good for skill retention and holds up well under pressure, however it isn’t so good for improving on a technique.

Clearly, one type of practice isn’t better than the other. Choosing which one to do is important and depends on what you are trying to achieve. This means that it is vital for you to think about what you can do to best achieve your goals before you begin practicing.

Put something on the line

At InnerDrive, one of our bugbears is people practising without consequences. Every time you play, there are stakes – whether it’s losing a ball, missing a penalty or stumbling out of the blocks for example. This means that, to best prepare for performing under pressure in these moments, you need to practice with something on the line. Even during training, you need to feel a bit of this pressure. In this case, a little bit of stress can be a good thing; this could be giving yourself a target to reach or betting a family member how many chips you will make etc.

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

This said, practice is also a really nice opportunity to try out something new without the consequences of it going wrong. You can’t really afford this kind of trial and error in competition. This means that when you are practising, as well as improving on things and making other parts of your game even better, you should also try new things to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

A word of caution here however: don’t push yourself so far that your admissions don’t match your abilities.  Therefore, stretching yourself means trying to improve to an amount that is just possible if you push yourself – not attempting impossible things that could lead you to inevitable disappointment or, worse, injury.

Visualise

A worry for many is that they don’t necessarily have the space to practice at home, but this doesn’t just have to be physical: it can be mental too. Where possible, you can even combine the two. Interestingly, if you can effectively visualise a situation that you have been in before or might encounter in the future, you can activate some of the same muscle groups that you would use and invoke the same emotions. Some quick tips to help you visualise better would be:

  • Get physical – This includes getting into your stance, holding a club, wearing your kit and boots or getting into your starting position.
  • Get creative – Use all of your senses to make it as clear as possible: what can you hear? What can you smell? Who else is there?
  • See your game – The most important rule is to stay realistic yet visualise yourself at your best.
  • Be emotionalWhat would you want to feel like when it happens?

When it’s done right, visualisation can help you feel more confident in future situations, learn more about the task at hand, and even get better at the task too!

Find your flex

Regardless of your sport, the most elite performers often have one thing in common: a routine before they perform or before they take each shot. For example, before penalties, freekicks, golf shots or when they are in blocks. However, the nature of these routines changes a lot from person to person. The key to routines is that they are practised all the time so that they become second nature to you, and now is as good a time as ever to develop and cement your routine.

Having a routine can help improve your confidence, focus and how you talk to yourself. For an easy guide to routines, check out our guide here.

FINAL THOUGHT

Know when enough is enough.

The temptation when you have large periods of time to practice at home is often to do as much as you can. Whilst you do have lots of time now, it’s really important you realistically plan how you will manage it and stick to these plans. This makes it easier to stop yourself from overdoing it. So, whilst it’s great to have the chance to practice, make sure you do so in moderation. This will avoid the chances of burnout and lower the risk of picking up a niggle or an injury. After all, this could prevent you from practising altogether!

An easy way to ensure you body is ready to practice is by resting and sleeping lots. Check out our guide here to getting a good night’s sleep.

 

For even more resources to help you during lockdown, check out our free six-packs - we have two available for athletes. We also offer sport psychology coaching sessions via video call!

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