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Mar 6 2017 - Practice & Teaching

Recently, I read a book titled Practice Perfect by Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi.  This book provided 42 rules for improvement. This posting will highlight three of the rules and a few thoughts as it relates to athletics coaching.

Rule 2- Practice the 20

            Many are aware of the 80/20 rule where 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of the sources.  As a coach, I have hundreds if not thousands of exercises, routines, activities, and training modalities that I could use. However, I don’t.  I have a stable set of exercises, routines, and training modalities that I use to elicit responses. This is not because I am bored or lazy but rather because I know they work and while I will try to inject some novelty within the exercise/routine/modalities it always keeps the same core feeling. I propose that we examine sprinting and the goal of getting an athlete as fast as possible. If we think in terms of 80/20 then we want to hone in on the 20% of what actually works in making athletes faster. In this case, the direction is towards maximum velocity sprints and acceleration work. Please remember I not suggesting that this is all that you need to do but rather if the goal is to get faster than focus on what you know works and get results. In this case I would say that 80% of sprint improvements are going to come from sprinting. The authors state, “You have to build a map of your goals from the outset. And you have to design extremely high-quality activities for each of your 20-percenters that get progressively more complex. On the other hand, once you’ve done that, you’ll no longer waste time preparing a smorgasbord of activities that you’ll use briefly and discard. You invest in developing better activities that you will use over and over. In the end this may save you work.”


Here are two key recommendations for the 20:

1)   Identify the 20 percent of things you could practice that will deliver 80 percent of the value.

2)   Practice the highest-priority things more than everything else combined.


Rule 5 – Replace your Purpose (with an Objective)

            This one is a bit more semantic in nature but I think it is extremely important. Every practice that I (and you) probably organize has a purpose. Some reason that you are doing what you are doing (which is great) but an objective provides greater clarity and focus. Let’s say that I am working with a hurdler who has been having issues making the three strides pattern between the hurdles. My hypothesis in this situation is that the athletes trail leg and position coming off the hurdle is not in position to facilitate velocity between the hurdles and thus needs to be refined. As such, I come with an objective for the next practice where we want to hit an ideal lead leg touchdown position with the trail leg in an “A” position up tall and in front of the body 90% of the time as evaluated through video. This now provides clarity as to what we are trying to achieve rather than just what we are going to do.  The authors state, “Many practices begin with the thought, “what am I going to do tomorrow?” (or even this afternoon!). When you ask this question, you are starting with an activity, not an objective – with the action, not the reason for it. In the end, you can’t decide if any activity is the right one to do until you know why you’re doing it. Instead, start by asking what you are going to accomplish, and then ask what the best route to that goal is. When an objective is made first, before the activity, it guides you in choosing or adapting your activities. When it comes second, after you decide what you’ll do, it is a justification.”


Here are two key recommendations for Replace your Purpose (with an Objective):

1)   Replace your vague idea of a “purpose” with a manageable and measurable objective that is made ahead of the practice and gives mastery guidance.

2)   Teach skills in a sequence of objectives of increasing complexity.


Rule 13 – Make a Plan

            Coaches plan all the time. I have made or used quadrennial plans, annual plans, seasonal plans, phase & period plans, monthly plans, weekly plans, daily plans, and session plans. Each plan provides just enough information so that I can see how all the plans build onto of one another and fit together. However, how do I make sure that my plans line up? How am I getting the information to make the plan? Previous Coaching Connection posts looked at data and how it can be used to help guide the plan. The authors provide three keys for planning:

1)    “Plan with Data-Driven Objectives in Mind”.

Previous Coaching Connection posts have explored the topic of data and how it can help guide plans and decisions that coaches make. Athlete X wants to win a medal at the Canada Games. What does the data suggest it will take? How does this information guide the objectives that Athlete X needs to be able to achieve in a competitive environment? Let the data guide the development of capacities, skill sets, and abilities.

2)    “Plan Down to the Last Minutes”

Fairly simply the authors state that good plans for practice leave nothing to chance. There are no questions as to what is going to happen next, when that drill will take place, or what is needed here or there. Sure, this is going to add in the time required to plan the practice but by having a detailed plan with all areas identified I would wager that the practice runs smoothly and efficiently or at the very least you are more prepared for any changes that might pop up unexpectedly.

3)    “Rehearse and Revise the Plan”

At this stage, you have a plan that has been put together with data and key objectives resulting in well thought decisions. You have planned and put it together with all the details in place. Now, can you rehearse it and revise it? Can you practice your practice session or can you video your practice session and look for improvements in how it is delivered? The authors state, “The time you make to practice training activities in advance always results in a better practice because it leads to better plans. We have scrapped activities, drastically revised activities, and simplified directions for clarity. Is this worth the time?”

These are just three of the 42 rules examined in the text. I have no doubt that I will be re-reading this one in the future and referring to it again. I would encourage coaches who are looking for information on how to reflect, analyze, and improve their practices to consider reading this text.


This article is the fifth of a monthly segment called Coaching Connection. If you are looking for additional ideas or assistance with any of the details above, do not hesitate to reach out. Additionally, ideas for future topics are encouraged or if you would like to contribute to this monthly activity please contact Coaching Education Director Jason Reindl at

2017-09-18 - Athlete Bio : Elizabeth MacDonald On Being A Veteran Competitor
2017-09-13 - New Brunswick Youth Cross Country Series
2017-08-30 - Athlete Profile: Naomie Maltais: On Harnessing Focus
2017-08-28 - MacPherson makes top 10
2017-08-27 - Athlete Bio : Alex Witmer: On Wanderlust, Echochambers, and Comebacks

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