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Never doubt the value of practice

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2012, at 10:03 p.m.

It’s been more than a decade since NBA player Allen Iverson’s infamous tirade about practice.

Iverson’s coach had criticized the basketball star for missing several team practices, saying he’d often used lame excuses to get out of workouts. During a news conference, reporters questioned the player about his practice habits.

Iverson shook his head.

“I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re in here talking about practice,” he said.

That post-game news conference – to see it, search “Iverson practice” on YouTube (then watch the hilarious DJ Steve Porter AutoTune version) – turned surreal when Iverson launched a rant that included the word “practice” more than two dozen times, incredulous that practice was such an issue.

“We’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that?” he said. “I know it’s important. I do. I honestly do. But we’re talking about practice, man. What are we talking about? Practice? We’re talking about practice, man. … We’re not even talking about the game, the actual game, when it matters. We’re talking about practice …”

And on and on.

Practice, man.

Practice?

My son, Jack, was not even 2 when Iverson’s rant was a topic for sports pundits and late-night comedy shows. I discovered it online just a few years ago.

Jack, then about 8, was worried that he and his AYSO teammates would be slaughtered at their first soccer match because they’d had only one solid practice. My friend Jeff tweeted me a link to the Iverson video, and we watched it together, Jack and I.

It became our little joke whenever someone in our house dared to doubt the value of practice.

Math quiz tomorrow? Swim meet? Violin playing test? Ballet recital?

“Practice, man,” we repeat, nodding.

We’re talking about practice.

I made my first apple pie this week, which looked beautiful but turned out a little runny inside. My first thought wasn’t to throw up my hands and never make one again, but to ask around, research, experiment, practice.

Practice makes better, I tell my kids. It seems more truthful than “Practice makes perfect.” And honestly, what fun is perfection?

Some of the boys on Jack’s current soccer team don’t like to run. (I don’t enjoy it myself, unless it’s away from a grizzly bear or toward a margarita, so I understand.) But recently, my husband had to explain to the youngsters that games aren’t The Thing. Practice is.

Run hard at practice, play hard on Saturday. Goof off during practice, better luck next time. It’s a simple concept that seems lost on too many children.

That’s why I was pleased this summer when swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated athlete in Olympics history, admitted that his practice habits probably hurt him at the finish of the 200-meter butterfly, where he lost the gold to Chad le Clos of South Africa by 0.05 seconds.

“It’s probably the finishes that I’ve done in workout ended up coming out here,” Phelps told NBC’s Bob Costas. “There were times where I would go kind of slow into the wall in workout or touch kind of lazy, and it showed.”

Watching that interview, Jack and I looked at each other and smiled, and I knew exactly what he was thinking because I was, too.

Practice, man.

Even for Phelps.

We’re talking about practice.

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com.

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