Practice To Get Good & Measure What’s Important

Recently there was a great article in the NY Times about the Oregon University football team. They’ve demolished everyone they’ve played this year and have averaged close to 50 points a game doing it. They’re doing this with an offensive philosophy that goes against most traditionally held beliefs about how to play football.

While reading the article above, I found this passage especially telling:

Trying to reach (or exceed) competition speed in training is a common goal across a range of sports. I once asked Bob Bowman, the longtime coach of Michael Phelps, why Phelps did not swim the languorous distance sets that were part of some other competitors’ regimens. “We don’t want him to swim slow in meets,” he said, “so why would we have him practice swimming slow?” John Wooden, the legendary U.C.L.A. basketball coach, was known for fast-paced practices that reduced the need for aerobic training.


Imagine the following, which you would see at a typical football practice across nearly any level: An offensive-line coach wades in after a play, puts his hands on the shoulder pads of his big left tackle and tries to correct the angle on his block or some subtle aspect of his footwork. Another play is run, and the coach says, “Better,” but he wades back in to make another small adjustment. That’s how a crisp two-hour practice becomes a three-hour ordeal.

It doesn’t happen at Oregon….

It seems the Ducks don’t run practice how you’re “supposed” to run practice: no interruptions, no tangentially related drills and no wastes of time. They practice playing football by, shockingly, playing football. Their offense also focuses on one thing: points on the board. There’s no concern with time of possession, number of plays or risk management. After all, having the ball for 8 minutes means nothing if you’re scoring a TD a minute, right?

This reminds me a lot of one of my favorite quotes from Jason Fried:

The problem I have is when companies’ business model is free only. And then they say, “We’ll figure out how to make money later.” As if there’s going to be this magic switch they can flip…If you’re not practicing making money, you’re not going to be able to flip that switch and just know how to do it really well. You need to have some time. You need to have some experience at making money.

Eliminate waste. Focus on what’s important and get really good at that. Nothing else really matters.