If practice makes perfect and nobody’s perfect, why practise?

Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of rock band Nirvana, played hard and died young. He said: “If practice makes perfect and nobody’s perfect, why practise?”

Actually, the well-worn truism he referred to has been turned into “perfect practice makes perfect” or “performance practice leads to perfect performance”. It can seem that practice is a penance, given that the first thing young players ask when arriving at training is: “Will we be playing a game tonight?”

Captain Richie McCaw of New Zealand holds up the Webb Ellis Cup after winning the Rugby World Cup Final against Australia 2015

And do they really want to be perfect anyway? It was New Zealand’s recent 100% Test year that made me think of perfection. Some are asking if they were best team ever. Whatever the conclusion, the great sides of the past had their flaws and no team has ever played the perfect game.

So, perhaps, perfect is the wrong word. The expression “practice makes perfect” is purely rhetoric. It sounds snappier and more powerful because of the alliteration. How about “practice makes better” or “focused practice with intensity leads to improvements in the ability to perform under pressure”. Not as powerful but more appropriate.

Cobain was anti-establishment and what he said fitted his outlook. But his conclusion was wrong. The reason we practise isn’t just to improve but because we enjoy it – it gives a sense of achievement. We usually practise with team mates, boosting our social esteem.

But Cobain was probably thinking of the coaches who drummed into him that practice was an unpleasant necessity. He dropped out of his baseball team and though a skilled junior wrestler, hated the experience.

That doesn’t mean that all practice is easy and “fun”. It still has to be intense and fast-paced when necessary. Your team should train as they want to play. Your challenge is to set the right targets to aim at – and establish how “practice” will help players achieve them

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