Does Practice Really Make You Better

Written by

I have been coaching, effectively, for my entire life. Even as a child, I played while preparing myself to be a coach. While it is what I have the most passion for, I do do other things. However, no matter what I am doing, I see basketball in it. I often draw analogies from other things I do to basketball. I want to share my latest experience.

After a 2 year injury hiatus, I returned to playing golf, for recreation. At one time I had gotten down to a 6 handicap but now I felt I had to start all over again. That meant buckets of balls on the driving range before I hit the course.

Three of four times a week, I would go to the practice range and hit ball and re-acclimate myself to my clubs. Every day, I would see others on the range, banging and banging balls, and complaining about how their games where not getting any better. Every day, they would be back, trying to hit the ball as far as possible and being discouraged with their last round.

"Basketball!" I thought. How so? To understand, I have to ask you to indulge me for a few minutes while, if you are unfamiliar with golf, I explain how the game is constructed.

The object of golf, for those who keep score and don't play competitively (where the objective is to get a lower score than your opponent), is to beat "Par." Par is the number of shots that the golf course designer and operator program into each hole. When you add the Par of all the holes together you get the course objective (hence the phrase, "Par for the course"). With a very rare exception for a Par 6, most courses are made up of par 3s, par 4s, and par 5s.

While playing, there are 3 types of shots, tee shots, approach shots and putts. When the holes are designed, they use the number of each shot you should make (based on layout and distance) to get the ball in the hole. In the design, every hole has a tee shot and every hole has 2 putts. What determines par, is the number of approach shots you should make. A "Par 3" has a tee shot, no approach shots and 2 putts. A "Par 4" has a tee shot, 1 approach shots and 2 putts. A "Par 5" has 1 tee shot, 2 approach shots and two putts.

Just bear with me a little longer.

Putts are always made with a putter. Approach shots and tee shots can be made with any club. If you want to get better at golf, why is this important to know? Because, in an ideal round, 50% of you shots are made with the putter. The other 50% can be made with any of the other 13 clubs you are legally allow to carry in your bag. There are 18 tee shots on an 18 hole course. On a Par 72 golf course (which a majority of golf courses are), probably 8 – 10 tee shots are made with the "Driver" club. That's about 14% of you shots are made with a Driver.

Here is the payoff. I go to the range, watch people spend 90% of their time practicing with their driver. They keep banging and banging and banging a club they will use 14% of the time, and complaining about how they are not getting any better. It seems to me that if you want your score to come down, you should spend the majority of their time practicing their putts, the shot they will use at least 50% of the time. Since the designers built in 2 putts per hole, any hole where you take less than 2 putts, your score will come down. If you get better at putting, your golf score will improve. That is what pro do.

Thanks for bearing with me. Here is the analogy.

Whenever I walk in to the gym, all I see are kids throwing up 3-point shots. I watch practices and teams are practicing getting 3-point shots. Over and over again I see this. When I work out with players (especially young ones), all they want to do is throw up 3s. They will change their form, their rhythm, their footwork, so they won't go over the line. In a workout, a make, a miss, a 3, a 2, a lay-up, all count for the same amount of points – 0. We don't keep score in a workout; we just want to get better.

I go watch young players work out on their own. Like the bangers on the golf driving range, they keep throwing 3 after 3 after 3 (especially younger kids, which is especially damaging to their development). Then, they come to me (or their coach does) and they want me to help. They don't understand why their shooting is so poor.

Looking at their numbers, I have seen kids practice 3s for hour after hour, only to have them take one or two 3s per game (or less). But, they say, they are even missing short and mid-range shots.

It seems to me, like in golf, if you want to get better, you should practice most the shots you take the most.

I have worked with some of the best 3-point shooters in the game, some of the highest percentage 3-point shooters in the history of the NBA. A huge percentage of our workout time is spent on shots inside the 3-point line. In a 500 shot workout, we may shoot 50 3s. Most of those are reps at the end of the workout, after we have gotten other things done.

Even the best 3-point shooters in history, Reggie Miller, Ray Allen, Dale Ellis, who were not only great shooter but high volume 3-point shooters as well, only take about 30% of their shots from beyond the arc for their careers. The 3-point shot might be the loudest part of their games, but they became great players by doing the other things well.

The sayings go, "Practice makes Perfect." Then came along "Perfect practice makes perfect." I don't believe anything makes perfect. Thomas Edison once said, "If you try to make everything perfect, you'll never get anything done."

I think, if you want to get better, practice the things that you actually do. Set aside some time to work on things that expand your game, but spend most of your time getting better at the things that you do most.

Don Kelbick

Coach Don Kelbick has had 27 years of coaching experience, 25 at the college level including 14 years as a head coach and 10 years as a Division I assistant including stops at Hofstra University, Marist College, Keene State College, and Florida International University. In 2 years as a high school coach, his teams produced 6 Division I players and was ranked #1 in Florida 28 out of a possible 34 weeks. In addition to coaching he has scouted for NBA teams, including the Knicks and the Hawks, and served as a general manager in the USBL.