How Do You Practice When You Can’t Practice?

It’s college basketball season, aka the Most wonderful Time of the Year. And last week, I was listening to an interview with a player on my favorite team (go Heels!)

Puff Johnson is a sophomore, and as of the time of the interview, he had just begun playing again after being plagued with injuries that kept him off the court for 30 consecutive games (the last 15 of last season and the first 15 of this one). 
In his first game back, Puff showed remarkable energy and spark, contributing even in limited minutes. The interviewer asked him, “It’s got to be hard to stay in it for so long when you can’t even get out on the court. How do you practice when you can’t practice?”

I’m kind of obsessed with practice, so my ears perked up.

Puff said that, basically, he paid attention. From the bench, he watched the plays. He watched what decisions other guys made, and he thought through what he might do in those situations. He watched his brother’s games (his brother Cam plays for the Phoenix Suns). He talked to the coaches and watched hours of film of games. 

In other words, Puff practiced mentally. He put himself in the mindset of the player who was on the court. He visualized himself running the play, making the pass, going after the loose ball. He also, and this is important, remained deeply connected to his teammates during the long months of his recovery. He cheered, he celebrated, he supported. He stayed engaged. 

And when the moment came, when the coach looked over and said “Puff, you’re going in,” he was ready. Because he had practiced.

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