Writing stories to pass values from one generation to the next

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Practice does not make perfect, no matter what the old baseball maxim says. Players don’t bat 1.000, even with a so-called “perfect swing.” I have been around baseball a long time, and I have seen some pretty sweet-looking swings–usually from lefties for some unexplained reason. Problem is, even the sweetest of swings–earned through years and years of good habits and lots and lots of practice–are often only sweet for the moment. Bad habits creep in. Injuries happen. Hitters lose focus.

People lose focus, too.

Take any other sports skill or life skill and the same truth applies: practice does not make perfect. As Winston Churchill once said, “They say that nobody is perfect. Then they tell you practice makes perfect. I wish they’d make up their minds.”

So if practice does not make perfect, what does practice make?

I must disagree with arguably the best football coach of all time, Vince Lombardi, who said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” What? (Head scratch) Have you ever been a part of a “perfect practice”? I haven’t either.

Another popular practice quote is “Practice makes permanent.” Another head scratcher. If it’s permanent, why would you need to keep practicing?

The practice mantra that stuck with me as a baseball coach was that practice makes routine. A player can easily fall out of the routine of proper swing mechanics, proper throwing mechanics, correct mental approach, and so on. Practice keeps skills honed, and more practice makes a correct approach the default. I can also apply “practice makes routine” to many other life skills that I practice, however imperfectly.

Learn Your Swing, Trust Your Swing

When I was coaching high school baseball in the ’90s and ’00s, I took several different teams to baseball camps at Louisiana State University. A weekend with the LSU players and coaches was always a great investment in our players and in our program. Skip Bertman was the coach at LSU then. He was one of those coaches who coached baseball and life simultaneously, slipping effortlessly from one the the other.

One seemingly insignificant memory I have from baseball camp at LSU is a pair of signs by the batting cages. One pointed toward the batting cages and read “Learn your swing here.” The other pointed toward the playing field and read “Trust your swing here.” I have used those signs many times over the years to talk about the importance of disciplines. Not discipline, but disciplines, those routines in our lives built by willpower, restraint, and self-sacrifice. What disciplines are a regular part of your life, so much so that they have become routine through regular practice?

  • My mother placed a particular importance on reading when I was a kid. I credit her for getting me started on what has become a lifelong discipline and the main reason I remain a lifelong learner.
  • Since I started my first blog several years ago, I have made a regular habit of writing on a near-daily basis. Less than two years ago, I was an unpublished author. Now, I am in post-production of my fourth book. All because of practice–imperfect and sporadic practice, for sure–that started with writing that first blog post.
  • After I left a teaching career in 2002, people often asked me if I missed teaching. No, I would tell them, I still teach. The audiences may have changed, but looking for teachable moments in ordinary (and extraordinary) life events has remained a regular part of my as-I-am-going life. That discipline has served me well since I returned to the classroom last fall.

Transferable Principles

Whether you are a youth baseball coach trying to teach those sweet swings or a mom or dad trying to teach your toddler to hit the target in the bathroom, practice does not make perfect. (I’m a case study in either example.) But practice does take a skill–however simple or complex–and makes it more routine.

Here’s the value in that: When that skill becomes more routine, you can focus on teaching more complex habits. Like correctly executing the hit-and-run or the squeeze play. Or remembering to put the seat down.

What discipline to you need to give some focus today?

IMG_6286Last week, I met Coach Ron Polk, legendary Mississippi State baseball coach. His textbook on coaching baseball may look a little dated, but it’s still the gold standard for baseball coaches at any level. He was offering the book for a ridiculously low price of $15, but I had him sign my 32-year-old copy instead. (My receipt stuck in the book since my freshman year of college says I paid $12.85.)

I was grateful to be able to hand Coach Polk a copy of Coach Dave: Season One, the first in a series about teaching life lessons through a game. Coach Polk is one of many great coaches who have collectively inspired me to write the series in order to pass along the values taught through baseball to another generation.




About Al Ainsworth

Al Ainsworth is a values storyteller. He works with individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations to pass along their values through the stories they tell…and re-tell.

Al is the author of Lines in the Gravel, Stories from the Roller Coaster (of a Faith Life), and the Coach Dave series. Subscribe to his email list for more values storying.

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