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Practicing at the Edge of Your Ability

posted by Softball Performance Blog
Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 8:20pm EST

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 Practicing at the Edge of Your Ability

Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog

Recently I read Daniel Coyle's Little Book of Talent (LBOT), the companion book to his best seller The Talent Code. Both are worth a read if you're serious about developing players to be the best they can be, but LBOT is a lot faster read. I actually purchased a copy for all my players and coaches, that's how much I liked it.

softball practice bunting 300x205 Practicing at the Edge of Your AbilityOne of the techniques Coyle says is followed by all the "talent hotbeds" around the world is practicing at the edge of your ability. All too often players (and coaches) like to stay where they're safe and comfortable. They love the feelgood success brings, and coaches in particular hate to see mistakes made. So they focus on doing things in a way that will deliver success — in practice.

Yet that's not what the best trainers and coaches do. Instead, they actually encourage their players to make mistakes in practice. Not on purpose, of course, but as they try to do things that are perhaps a bit beyond their current skill level. It's important for players to find out what their limitations are, and then see if they can push beyond them.

That doesn't happen if you are completely focused on outcomes. Take pitching practice, for example. While hitting your spots is important, if every pitching practice focuses on hitting your spots it's unlikely the pitcher will ever get to her maximum speed.

Why? Because she will do what it takes to get the score required to pitch that weekend instead of pushing herself to find out what she can do. If she pushes herself enough she will gain that control at the higher speed. But if her only focus is getting the ball to a spot she's unlikely to push herself.

Fielding is the same. We love kids with great range, but often times kids won't get to balls it seems like they should because they've never pushed that envelope. They have a comfort zone they can cover without making errors, and they stay within it. Anything outside that zone and they're not even going to try.

(That's not just kids either. There are some MLB players, including a few Golden Glove winners, who minimize their errors by not going after balls on the edge of their ability.)

What about hitters? We've all seen the kids who make contact, but they don't make hard contact. They're content to not strike out. But what does it matter if they strike out, or pop up, or ground out weakly to the second baseman? An out is an out.

One of the best things you can do as a coach is to give your players permission to stretch themselves. Let them know it's ok to make mistakes in practice if they're stretching themselves. Heck, it's even ok to make the occasional mistake in a game if they're doing it as the result of extra effort rather than lack of effort.

Help your players get out of their comfort zones and instead find out just how good they can be. You never know when that extra effort might just be the difference between a big win and a loss that didn't have to be. All because you were willing to let your players take a few chances and live out on the edge.

Anyway, that's the way I see it.

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