I played a lot of sports in high school “Lettering” all four years and starting in many of them. That sounds good right; should I stop there? I’ll be honest, I was pretty awful. The reason I played all of the sports and on paper sound like Amy Athletic is because our school was so small. There were years that ours girl’s basketball team didn’t have enough people to play offense and defense at practice. We could only practice in drills or with the offense at an advantage because defense was in a box zone with no “and 1” to cover the 5th girl. I tried really hard to make up for that. I was scrappy and quick and I could make it pretty difficult to get down the court or take a shot. That is where my dull amount of athletic talent really shined, just as brightly as it could, defense on the basketball court. I played defense so dang hard. Offense though, touching the ball, no thanks.
I remember early on in my basketball career, which spanned from the time I was 11 to 18, the coach telling me to practice harder. Why would I do that? I was conserving my energy I told him. In my infinite preteen wisdom, I thought I should think through the drills, practice at half speed, and then I would do it perfectly come game time. Anyone who’s practiced any sport, played an instrument, or developed any sort of new skill knows, there is a time to go slow and think it through and there is a time to go hard and practice like you’ll play or perform when the stakes are raised.
The point of practicing how you play is to be in the same zone you’ll be in at game time. You want to be practicing so hard and intentionally that you are developing the right habits in high intensity situations. It also, allows you more opportunities to reflect on where your instincts went wrong. For example, you instinctively hesitate when someone sets up to defend your layup. If you do it during practice there is a better chance its noticed and you and your coach will have more opportunities to work through it. Or in my case, if you instinctively throw your arms over your face the moment a ball is passed to you with any speed, recognizing it before game time would be significantly less embarrassing.
So this is fun right, getting your basketball coaching notes from a person who is clearly inept in the sport? If you’ve followed me for long I bet you’re already coming up with all the ways this applies to office life. Maybe you’re thinking of preparing for, and participating in, meetings that aren’t a big deal as if they are, having easy conversations with your team with the same intentionality as if they were difficult ones, or treating a social gathering with someone higher on the ladder than you as a casual interview even though there is no job offer out there (yet). Those are all true and I could talk for hours on those strategies, but where “practice how you’ll play” really stands out for me is in my marriage.
Early in our relationship I fell into the same trap I did in junior high basketball. I’ll just think about the things that need to be worked on, instead of having true conversations. I’ll go half way by sprinkling in some hints about why I’ve been irritated, and if the intensity increases I can fall back on old instincts and just cry until he says it was all his fault. Sounds ridiculous right, but maybe a little familiar too? It was because I wasn’t treating those “small” things like the practice they were. I wasn’t using them as the training ground to hone my skills, and frankly, neither was he. If you don’t practice clear, honest, objective communication you won’t have the skills when you need it. We all need to use those little things like, “You’ve been home late the last 3 nights and I feel like I am doing everything” and “Why can’t the clean laundry ever just be put away because I can’t find anything” as the drills and the scrimmage. If you’re not practicing the positive skills you’re reinforcing the negative ones. That is just how it works, you can’t be neutral.
My lack of practicing the positive habits, and reinforcing the negative, meant that I was practicing how I would play, which was not the way I wanted the game to go. I used to say that I would be in a fight with my husband for 45 minutes before I even invited him in. This meant that I had already escalated to full on anger, planned my perfect responses to any points he could make, and often my thoughts had spiraled to the point that we were not on speaking terms (in my mind) before I even told him what was wrong. I wasn’t practicing how to work through anything I was just practicing getting really mad at my husband and winning the argument.
Now, though I would never pretend we practice our drills perfectly, we are practicing the right skills and practicing them the way we’d want to play. Our discussions center around a single set of values, shared goals, objective truths, and expressing how we’re feeling. We try very hard not to talk for the other person unless it is to build them up. When things start going down the wrong path we are each quick to call a time out and reevaluate how we got there. These are the plays I want in the game and with another 20-30 years of practice, I hope our execution is near flawless.
Things I’m reminding myself of
This is never going to be perfect. There was an instance just the other day where I started spiraling. I had to literally tell myself out loud ‘Stop!’ Once you are intentional about what is and is not in the playbook, getting back to it is easier. Also, my husband was not escalated when we started the discussion so I wasn’t tempted to meet him at some higher level. The great thing about practicing with a partner who is all in with you, is they can fill in your gaps. If you both fall short at the same time, you can typically both recognize and move forward next time.
There are a million skills in this world that you can become an expert in. The skills of fighting with someone you love and respect I would argue are some of the most critical. You need to be able to listen and articulate thoughts and feelings. You need to be able to influence and compromise. You have to be able to admit you’re wrong and fix it or just apologize. There are few instances where your emotions will be stronger and your opinions will be held tighter than when it applies to your spouse. If you can be objective and clear headed in the face of that, there is no telling what you can do in the board room.