Practice intensity is the will, commitment, and enthusiasm to practice with a clear purpose. Most coaches consider it an important characteristic of any successful athlete or team. The best athletes have learned to get the most out of practices. They come to practice with an intense focus that directs them to enthusiastic, determined, goal-driven training. In youth sport very talented players often just ‘get by’ and are not intense in practice. They can cheat themselves for a while, but eventually others that practice with intensity catch up and pass them. ‘Going through the motions’ regularly in practice will stall your progress as an athlete. What you need to do is make practice intensity a habit.
Intensity is not as simple as either you have it or you do not. Intensity must be viewed along a continuum where players can be over- or under-intensified. Thus, an appropriate level of intensity will lead to the best practices. There are three important aspects of practice intensity including; (1) an ideal level of intensity is needed to play your best, (2) it is a positive feeling, and (3) the optimal level of practice intensity is different for all athletes.
Athletes that ‘go through the motions’ drive coaches insane. Why would athletes come to practice lacking intensity when it is obvious that good practices lead to good performances? Usually, it is not intended. Instead, athletes that lack practice intensity may not be able to tell you the cause. Fortunately, research has provided some insights into this problem. Under-intensity often is the result of poor preparation, a lack of motivation, and fatigue. Moreover, under-intense athletes frequently lack goals or a plan for practice. Reflect back to a practice when you were ‘going through the motions.’ Attempt to determine the reason(s) why you lack practice intensity.
Developing a preparation plan before practice that include the following skills will help you eliminate ‘going through the motions.’ First, all good practices are goal driven. Goals are achievement standards set to direct behaviour. Therefore, goals give us a clear purpose for practicing. It is amazing how many athletes go to practice without a goal. It is like driving a car without knowing the destination. Do not allow practice to be haphazard and lackadaisical. Set goals for improving skills, tactics, and techniques so that you will be on the road of progress every single practice.
The second skill an athlete should make a habit is using cue words, phrases, and images that refocus behaviour. These skills will help you overcome a lack of motivation or fatigue. For instance, when you are lacking practice intensity you should use an invigorating cue or effort phrase of “come on, let’s get intense” to increase intensity. Or, use an image of a time when you were performing well, practicing hard, or had great intensity. ‘Going through the motions’ in practice undermines your attempts to improve as an athlete. Setting goals and using cues and images are important to increasing intensity. To become your best you must make practice intensity a habit. Pushing your limits every single practice will enable you to improve skills and develop into a consistent peak performer.