Column: ‘We’re talking about practice’

Hall of fame basketball player Allen Iverson provided what may be one of the more memorable press conferences ever during his storied career.

The focus of said press conference was not anything he had done on the court but his alleged absences from practices during the season. At least 13 times in the course of answering questions, Iverson states, “We’re talking about practice” in an intentionally dismissive manner. He even goes so far as to note that his winning the most valuable player award had “nothing to do with practice.”

As a young athlete, Iverson’s sentiment resonated with me. I failed to understand the point of many of the drills we conducted ad nauseam. I wondered how dribbling around immobile and defenseless cones prepared one for evading and overcoming actual opponents. I couldn’t understand how sliding back and forth between arbitrary lines on the court helped prepare one to stay in front of a defender.

Running through tediously repetitious motions over and over again with no ball and seemingly no purpose struck me as a monumental waste of time. I often felt we should take a cue from Nike and “Just Do It.”

It’s all too easy to get drawn into the trap of believing large amounts of attention paid to little things is less than productive. Most of us only see the end result of hours, days, months, even years of practice. We see the final product when all of the pieces are finally put together and the play is run with seamless perfection and the game is won.

The principle carries to multiple other disciplines, though. When the dancers take the stage and move with grace and poise, when the curtain is drawn and musicians are transformed into the characters in a musical, when the band marches out onto the field and moves with precision as one unit, all of these are made possible through regular practice.

The goal isn’t simply to do things well but to make doing them with anything less than excellence unnatural. Without fail, the better the performance, the more practice was put in by the performer.

A good friend and mentor of mine used to frequently say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” I heard him say it to the girls who played basketball for us during practices, but I also heard him say it with equal frequency when he would speak to students who visited his office as a youth pastor and as a school administrator.

Over the years, I have found his words to be absolutely true. What we practice in private, though often seemingly mundane and inconsequential, creates the default modes of operation for the moments the pressure is on and we don’t have time to think through every aspect of what we will do.

What we do is, more often than not, an outworking of what we have done over and over and over again leading up to the proverbial moment of truth.

This principle, let’s call it the practice principle, has wide-ranging implications for our daily lives. The things we practice in the everyday and ordinary will prepare us for the inevitable moments when the pressure turns up and it’s time to perform.

Perhaps if we made an intentional effort to practice positive things like love, joy, peace patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (otherwise known as the fruit of the spirit), those would become our default mode of operation when opportunities arise. The practice of such character qualities would surely lead to excellence in everyday living.

What are we talking about? Practice? Yes indeed. We are in fact talking about practice. Because once again, practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. And what we make permanent determines how we will perform.

The Rev. Jeremy Myers is the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Seymour. Read his blog at Send comments to [email protected].

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