Practice is Everything: Learning From Pete Carroll of the Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll Coach

Hockey coaches have a special opportunity at the beginning of every practice.

Unlike football, soccer, or baseball; sports where the coaches basically run onto the same field as their players, hockey coaches get to strap on their skates and re-live, if only for a few blissful moments, the feeling of exhilaration accompanied by stepping onto a blank sheet of ice they once knew in their playing days.

Some coaches like to re-live their playing career more than others (I do not – best to leave that in the past) – but we all love gliding onto the ice at the beginning of practice and feeling the cold air on our face.

When you’re on the ice with your team, whether you’re a coach or a player, nothing else matters.

Practice is Everything

Pete Carroll is from the school of motivation when it comes to extracting the most from his players during practice.

“Every day you should feel the energy in stretch and early in practice. The coaches try to set the tone.” One neat thing Pete and the Seahawks do at the start of practice is tap a sign that says I’m in. You can check it out in the video below, but it’s a sign, literally, and a symbol, figuratively, of commitment to the upcoming work. 

“When they tap that sign they’re making a positive statement about what they intend to do.”

For the Seahawks, physically tapping in sets their mind to the task of taking advantage of their practice time. Carroll even has his managers at the field for practice to make sure they achieve tip-top functionality. They’re in, too.

“Practice is really a performance for us,” Carroll says.

Attention to Detail

It doesn’t matter what sport you’re coaching, how you set up your drills will make the difference between a successful practice and an unsuccessful practice. I get to talk shop with a lot of different coaches every week, and one of the most common answers I get when I ask about coaching a practice is that we all want practice to move quickly.

How do we do that? By being organized, talking clearly, and talking as little as possible. Practice is for movement. If you under-explain something, will it completely derail the practice?

Maybe. But probably not. If someone doesn’t understand the drill, hopefully you’ve created a culture where a teammate will step up and help.

What Are You Going to Do Next?

Back to Coach Carroll.

“We’re really disciplined as coaches to talk about the desired outcome. Not about what went wrong or what the mistake was. We’re always talking about the next thing you can do. It’s always about what we want to happen.”

Another neat thing about Seahawks practice is that it always includes music. For Coach Carroll, you have to be able to deal with distractions, but it also infuses the practice with extra energy. Music helps players push their limits to get from one detail to the next.

One of those details? Competition. For Carroll, practice is about pushing each other to do their respective best and bring out the best in each other. If you make your teammate work hard, that’s where the real magic happens. The Seahawks keep score in multiple ways during practice.

And when the players are pushed to compete, to get better, and to learn details as quickly as possible?

Well, that’s a lot of fun, too.

Check out Pete Carroll and the Seahawks at practice in this cool video below.

Kelvin is an assistant coach with the UBC Thunderbirds Men's Varsity hockey team and a freelance hockey writer.