When You Don’t Like to Practice

The PE class I created was carefully called Games & Practice.  The goal is to develop skills and then utilize those skills in a larger, faster context.  Sometimes this means adding people, sometimes this means creating a more complex task, and sometimes this means being able to execute/engage at a self-directed level.  It is meant to build confidence and competency, and was developed primarily for kids that were getting neglected in the more traditional holding pens of Physical Education — Sports or Fitness.  The class matched the teacher — a former jock who had always loved practice most.  Practice was where you got better, where you learned.  Playing in official, refereed games mostly seemed to highlight your weaknesses.  I had hoped to create a safe environment where kids could take the time they needed to progress and come to enjoy the process.

Should the feature photo hold no significance, a professional American basketballer made headlines a few decades ago by downplaying the importance of practice when you get paid to perform well in games. (It’s reference snuck into a scene on Ted Lasso.)  I see this same sentiment with athletes who feel PE is beneath them.  Or with those who have sized up the competition and recognize they are superior and want to prove that notion in real-time, full-rules sport play.  Or with those who fully recognize they are lacking with skill but rely on simple luck or fate to pass their skills tests so they can get back to their friends.

The concept of practice is often misunderstood.  Experience (and schooling) have come to relate it to ‘not being good enough’ or ‘needing more help’.  It is a symbol of being less than, that you don’t quite fit with the rest.  There is an attachment to requiring additional time which fails to sit well to a population trying to soothe and be entertained right now.  If who I am is defined in this moment, I don’t want to be by myself.

It’s not that they have to be, and do often end up in pairs or small groups, but there is an intrinsic quality to practice that requires you to pay attention, make assessments, and ultimately, corrections.  You have to know what you did to elicit a positive result, and you have to know what occurred to elicit a negative one.  It is “getting into the thing.” — a difficult ask when your experience is built on avoidance and distraction and going through the motions.


I currently define practice as, “Continually trying for personal reward.”


There are many elements at play.  Still, when play itself has been lost, even recognized components don’t know what to do with each other.

First, there is the trying.  This can be fractured into interest and intent.  It need not be effortful.

Second, there is the personal.  What matters to you?  Is it something you could describe as yours, or is it borrowed/ taken from others?

Third, there is the reward.  Did the goal remain the goal?  Did it need to?  Can satisfaction be found in multiple places, by multiple means?


When you learn to own the process and the product, you can manufacture anything you wish.


The imagination, the senses, the ability to problem seek and problem solve, they all come alive.  You begin to know what to do intuitively, which does not have to translate to repetitively.  Novel is what you dream up and decide to access.  It is continual expansion, in any direction you choose.

Now that I’ve painted a picture of how I see practice, let me bring it back to what I’ve observed with high-schoolers.

When given the chance to claim their own space, 99% of the time they will split by gender.  The guys want to impress themselves.  The girls want consistency.  Shooting baskets, for example, the guys will try for three-pointers, even when they can’t shoot.  They display signs of celebration when they make it (if they make it).  The girls will stay close to the basket and focus on getting balls to go in.  There is little reaction to their successes (or failures), as they seem to expect to make it.  Should they expand out into ‘new’ territory where they don’t expect success and make it, displays of satisfaction start to appear.

The ones that like to practice are the ones that enjoy controlling their variables.  They do not like to integrate into a bigger whole, nor do they like the pressure of peers and performance.  They recognize that practices aligns with your state and can attune accordingly.  They realize everything exists on a continuum far more detailed and nuanced than all or nothing.  The ones that do not like to practice require the environment to offer a worthy challenge worth their effort and energy.  They are looking to test what they have previously acquired, and not necessarily to acquire more.  These folks wish to display their skill and command respect or watchful attention.

This leads me to my final conclusion:


For some, the practice is fitting in.


It has nothing to do with improvement and everything to do with belonging.  When you play with, you are one of, a necessary cog for the game to function.  You find a role and do your best to deliver on it, so they will ask you to play again.  As someone whose experience often removed the social element, I had to witness and be reminded of this.

It’s why the one tall African American student wants nothing to do with basketball.  But he will play soccer with his Hispanic classmates, who excel at soccer.  While he is not as skilled, he is learning and engaging and improving, not from practice but from consistent play.  His actions aren’t defiant, they’re illuminating.  His displayed decisions are communicating, “don’t tell me who I am.”  In that, I can wholly relate.




[Feature photo by Biljana Jovanovic from Pixabay.]

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