We often hear that term. What is it and why is it different?
Coaches, for all of time, have asked their respective players and teams to practice fast. Why? Well they are trying to mimic the tempo and flow of an actual game and/or contest. No matter the sport, when the lights go on and the bullets are flying for real, things change and game speed is different than practice.
My entire career, every time I took to the practice field, I busted my tail to simulate actual game speed. This stems from growing up in Texas. Not to say that Texas has cornered the market on practicing fast, but I was fortunate to have some unbelievably intense and quality coaches in my earlier football days in Dallas.
Every drill was the same for me, whether it be taking drops with the other quarterbacks, working with the big boys and running backs during inside run, skelly or team period. The mindset was to push to get better, don't waste a rep, prove yourself and practice fast. Why? All in hopes of making the actual game slow down. Pushing yourself in these situations is only part of the challenge. Getting your teammates to go 100 per cent all the time to help duplicate actual game speed is critical.
Executing at game speed during practice is a total commitment to excellence, by everyone. This mindset has to be shared not only by your offensive teammates but equally important, the "Look Team". The Look Team is comprised mostly of back-up defensive players, developmental squad members and in some cases, defensive starters. Having the Look Team dialed in and flying around giving you and your teammates exact replication of the anticipated defensive fronts, stunts and coverages, is paramount. If not, you are just fooling yourself and wasting time, which is otherwise known as going through the motions!
When you have not been under the lights executing at game speed for a period of time your tempo, rhythm and timing are altered drastically. This period of time away for game action does not have to be very long before the gap starts to develop and execution wanes. I'm talking a week or two and BAM, you can be behind...this is very frustrating.
Now there's also something else, something very big you have to take into account. Athletes who are away from game action for any length of time are typically recovering from some type of injury.
When this happens, athletes have to get over the mental hurdle of being injury free. Believe me, this is a beast in and of itself! When overcoming an injury, no matter how hard you work in practice to try and convince yourself that all is good, it's in the real game conditions when the truth is discovered.
Why is this? Well in today's game with contact during practice being monitored and certainly limited on so many fronts, actual game conditions from this standpoint are difficult to duplicate.
Once back into the the fray and you are convinced mentally that you are one hundred percent, now you can concentrate on dealing with the tempo, rhythm and timing of game speed.
We see many examples of this every week in sport.
On Monday Night Football this week, we saw the likes of Johnny "Football" Manziel adapting to game speed at a completely different level. It almost looked like he had never played the game before. His timing was horrendous and that's game speed coming into play, rearing it's completely different, sometimes ugly head, or in Johnny's case, finger.
Take for instance 2011 CFL Most Outstanding Player Travis Lulay in his three brief appearances in this past week's game versus the Argos. Travis looked like he was having a few problems adjusting to game speed, and that's putting it nicely! Perfect example of a player first having to overcome the mental hurdle of injury and secondly trying to adjust to the speed of the game.
We know Lulay can do it, as he's done it before. With Manziel, that's a different story!
I'll give you an example of all this coming together.
When there is an all out focus coupled with a consistent effort and will to prepare to win, good things will happen. There's nothing like being on top of your game, knowing that you have put in the time and have done everything humanely possible to have success when the lights go on. All that preparation, video study, conditioning, rehab, practicing at full speed, effort and training does pay off.
There's stepping into the huddle with your teammates, looking them in the eye and confidently calling a play anticipating a certain defensive front, stunt and coverage. Telling them this is money, a touchdown if we all do our jobs. After a few coaching points and reminders to the guys, you break the huddle and cruise up to the line of scrimmage. Watch the defence react to your formation, connect the dots and already know, BANG, you got em!
Your guys go into motion, which gives you even more indicators that the right play is called and now it's just a matter of going through your cadence, taking the snap, looking a defender off opening up more room for your target and delivering a strike that puts six points on the board! That's what it's all about! Being in control and executing at the highest level. Ex-players often say that they miss the guys in the locker room the most after they retire, that's definitely part of it, but for me it's also the precise execution with those same guys on the field, due to all the hard work and sacrifices made together. That's what I miss the most!
If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times. You have to play the game to learn the game and so much of this is adjusting to the speed of the game at all levels.
Now go out there and earn that opportunity to play by practicing fast, and make sure it's at game speed!