In this series, we will provide weekly excerpts from Pete Carroll’s New York Times Best Selling book, Win Forever, and others that are of interest to you.
“‘Practice is Everything’ is one of the core tenants of the Win Forever philosophy. We want to create an environment that will permit each of our players to reach his maximum potential, and one of the ways we do that is by practicing with great focus. A player who is fully prepared on the practice field will feel ready to meet whatever comes his way on game day and thus, feel more confident and able to minimize distractions of fear or doubt.
As coaches, we want to run a practice regiment that continually covers all the fundamentals of sound football but varies enough to prepare the team for all contingencies and keep the players’ attention. This is not easy to accomplish, but it is a challenge that our staff embraces. We want to develop an environment that fosters learning and develops confidence.
Our goal is to consistently be the most effective football team we can be. When game day comes along, we want to be fully prepared. We don’t want to be worried about anything. We just want to cut loose, let it rip, and be ourselves. Having a routine can be very powerful in this regard. If you compete day in and day out to excel at something in a systematic way, you can’t help but improve. While we are always making small adjustments according to what we need to work on at a particular time, the basic structure and routines of our practice are totally consistent. Beginning with the team meeting and ending with the final play of practice, the details of each day’s work are accounted for down to the minute.
At USC, we began each practice day with a team meeting. There, I always attempted to set the focus and tone for the day, always with enthusiasm. I was simply demonstrating the energy I wished to see from the coaches and players as we approached practice that day. We tried to keep these meetings short so that when the team broke up into position groups, the coaches had time to cover the assignments for the day in more detail. A primary job of the position coaches, however, was to reinforce the level of excitement and enthusiasm. The energy and the spirit of the day were paramount.
During the first few minutes of most team meetings we would talk about daily events going on around the world, both in sports and outside them. We would make general announcements and try to capture everyone’s attention as we began to focus on the day. My goal was to create a close-knit environment, with our coaches and players sharing responsibility for the day’s outcome.
We also showed highlights from the previous day’s practice. The players didn’t know which plays were going to go up on the big screen, but they did know that if they had been dogging it, that play would surely be shown, accompanied by hooting and hollering. The coaches had a blast with it, and there were always funny plays that we showed back and forth in slow motion. But the very serious belief remained: “Practice is Everything.” By beginning each meeting with highlights, we energized the atmosphere, got the juices flowing, and had some fun jump-starting the day.
Our topics for the day might include areas we needed to work on or notable moments from practice the day before. We might call out someone’s birthday or point out a notable academic accomplishment of one of our players. I loved to talk about sporting events and current national and world issues, especially if they could serve as educational moments. Another one of my favorite activities was to acknowledge and introduce notable visitors or former players who were on campus visiting the Trojans.
From a leadership perspective, these meetings were a great opportunity to connect. As a leader, I don’t see any benefit in maintain a reserve or keeping a distance, the way some other coaches did when I was growing up. I wanted our players to feel my enthusiasm and the coaching staff’s enthusiasm and get geared up for the day. I wanted them to know that we cared and that the task ahead in practice was as much a chance for them to shine as any conference game. We spared no effort to make sure that our guys approached every practice as an opportunity and a challenge. I wanted them to see practice as something to look forward to with excitement and focus. When we did that properly, our practices were as competitive and fiery as a game.
Regardless of whatever we discussed or did in the team meeting, by the time we reached the practice field we were into serious business. Our players needed to channel the energy from the team meeting into an unshakably competitive state of mind so that they could take advantage of the practice opportunities.”
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