The Importance of Repetition
Many times in sports, athletes hit a plateau or a point of frustration. It can happen 4 weeks into a sport or it can happen after years of playing. Initially, an athlete comes to a sport with a certain amount of natural talent. That talent then meets coaching. That coaching often elevates the level of play. Tips and tricks are given. Feedback at the moment is received. The athlete continues to grow.
Then an athlete hits the competitive experience. Whether a pick up game at the park or a club level tournament, the competitive experience teaches the child something more about themselves. The other players bring unpredictable movement and the athlete uses their training to react to that unknown. This can be thrilling for the child who has success and it can be challenging for the child who struggles more than they anticipated they would.
At some point in their journey, an athlete will come up against competition that exceeds their level of play. This is a telling moment for every athlete. Will they rise and use it for motivation to get better? Will they get frustrated and want to admit defeat? This is the critical moment when the principle of repetition can be called on to help the athlete increase their level of play while building resilience and confidence.
The principle of repetition dictates that an athlete who consistently works on the fundamental elements of their sport on a consistent basis, will be able to execute with more confidence and efficiency in competition. The repetition of fundamental elements allows the athlete to store the movement patterns in their muscle memory. In challenging situations, where adrenaline is pumping and sensory input is high, the body’s muscle memory responds automatically to the physical demands of the situation.
This automatic response allows an athlete's brain to focus on the strategic elements of the challenge creating a more successful outcome for the athlete. An example of repetition of a fundamental skill would be a lacrosse player practicing wall ball or a soccer player practicing footwork. The athlete who puts in time working on their own personal movements, teaches their body to make those movements automatic.
Now drop that same athlete in a high intensity game with 2 minutes left on the clock. The athlete does not have to think about how to move the ball. That work has already been done. The body responds the way it has been trained to and it moves the ball with precision. The movement pattern has been practiced so many times that it frees up the brain to think strategically. The athlete is now able to keep her eyes up, look down field for a pass or seize an opening in the defense to score. The athlete is able to see the big picture because the body is able to handle the fundamental elements of play. This levels up their game and allows them to experience positive outcomes on the field.
The principle of repetition sounds easy, however, the discipline it takes to keep the consistency of practicing the fundamentals is harder. Athletes may need help and encouragement to get started. As their parents and trainers, we can help them create a habit of practicing their fundamentals. We can encourage them to work with other athletes to make it more fun in a class or team setting. And we can help them find what works for them by praising them as they build their consistency over time; this is one of the most valuable things a parent or coach can do to help elevate an athlete's level of play. Athletes who receive positive feedback for the mundane work off the field will continue to be fueled to keep practicing their fundamentals, in turn leveling up their performance and setting the athlete apart on the field.