There’s an old saying in the sporting world that many athletes live by – “Practice makes perfect.”
When we were kids my brother and I spent countless hours on playgrounds playing pick-up games of basketball or shooting hoops from every inch of the court. For most of our childhood our spare moments were consumed with being the best possible athlete that we could be. I was not unlike every other basketball-starved kid of my day who worshiped guys with nicknames like “Magic”, “Dr. J”, “Iceman” and “Air Jordan”. My great, 16-year-old aspiration was to someday play in the NBA. That was followed closely by my dreams of being an NFL player and in a not so distant third place was my dream of being a millionaire businessman. Not at all farfetched or pretentious, right?
In those hours we studied players, we watched games and we emulated a lot of the things that we observed. When things didn’t work we went back to studying the game, paid close attention to the small, subtle things such as the trajectory of the ball, the release and the follow-through. We practiced rebounding, passing, dribbling and every other aspect of the game while developing the mental toughness and the confidence that comes with doing everything the right way. When it felt like we had everything down, we used repetition to condition our minds and our muscles to do the things that we had learned. In essence, we practiced the right things to perfection or at the very least, a modicum of what we believed to be perfection.
My dreams of being a professional athlete were never realized because somewhere between my 16-year-old dreams and my twenty-first birthday I stepped into the path of an oncoming train called “Reality” and what was left of my near-death psyche was a guy who needed to get a life moving with the flow of humanity. The other reality is, the adage is flawed – practice does not make one perfect but rather, as in the immortal words of Green Bay Packers coach and legend Vince Lombardi, “Perfect practice makes perfect.”
Instituting Lomardi’s logic in an athletic pursuit makes a lot of sense. I’ve coached kids whose athletic ability runs the gambit. Some will excel at the concept, others are competent and still others have difficulty. This is due to a number of factors that I won’t discuss here. However, given the correct instruction, resources and an environment in which to excel along with the right expectations, each athlete will in his/her own due time show some improvement even if that improvement is marginal.
Establishing the same reason in every other aspect of life is sometimes more demanding and the results are often less tangible. Some things just aren’t as simple to perfect when you’re left with the task of defining something like, “I’m going to be the perfect parent,” when there are no measurements, no tried and true ‘test cases’ of perfect parenting or even an example by which to model your parenting habits as I once did in my childhood basketball hero’s.
But I believe there are still things that I can do to work towards being a good parent, a good spouse, a good friend, sibling, child, caregiver, employee, manager – whatever it is you want to be better at and build a sense of satisfaction or perfection.
For example I struggle with patience – anyone with a busy life knows that it takes a lot of practice to be patient. But I have to work harder than your average human because I sometimes feel like I was born angry, moody and impatient. This has been a lifelong, ongoing challenge for me. I have ruined relationships simply because people could no longer tolerate my moods and irritation. So I have to practice being more patient by being more tolerant; by understanding that my way is not always the right way; by accepting that I am imperfect and I can’t expect other people to be perfect. This takes constant monitoring of my thoughts and specific attention to things that trigger my ire.
Though there is no visible act of practicing patience, the internal struggle to be more patient is no less taxing and the rewards have been far greater than having an awesome jump-shot. It has dramatically improved my relationships but as in all things, perfect practice never ends.
Are you using perfect practices to be better at something you want to perfect?