Was Allen Iverson Right About Not Needing to Practice?
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Just recently, the sports world celebrated the 17th anniversary of what some have called "the most iconic rants in sports history."
The speech -- made just a few days after the 76ers were eliminated from the first round of the 2002 NBA playoffs -- was delivered by their star player Allen Iverson and it was about practice. Iverson, at the time, had a rocky relationship with the head coach of the Sixers. Many were questioning his commitment, particularly after Iverson was accused of missing practices. He, not surprisingly, had other thoughts.
“We sittin’ in here, I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talkin’ about practice," Iverson famously said at a news conference. "I mean listen, we talkin’ ’bout practice. Not a game, not a game, not a game. I mean how silly is that? We talkin’ bout practice. I know I’m supposed to be there, I know I’m supposed to lead by example. I know that, and I’m not shovin’ it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important, I do. I honestly do...We not even talkin’ bout the game, the actual game, when it matters. We talkin’ bout practice.”
Iverson caught a lot of flak from that tirade, and not just because he used the "practice" 20 times in a two-minute speech. It's because -- whether you’re in the sports, entertainment or the business world -- questioning the value of rehearsing is considered sacrilege. Everyone needs practice, right? Every time you need to deliver a speech or perform a task you should rehearse it again and again, right?
Wrong. Some people may quietly agree with Iverson. They don't really feel like they need the practice either.
Elon Musk is one of those people. He doesn't like to rehearse presentations beforehand. Rumor has long had it that Keith Moon, drummer for The Who, was not a fan of rehearsals, and neither was the King of Television, Jackie Gleason. Metallica's Lars Ulrich avoided rehearsals as did Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley. Even Millie Bobby Brown didn't rehearse her emotional scene with police chief Hopper in the final episode of Season 3's Stranger Things and, c’mon, could I cite anyone more credible?
Of course you can read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and learn all about the 10,000 hours that the Beatles, Michael Jordan and other people at the top of their game put in to become the very best at what they do. There's no question that to get really good at making speeches, interviewing new hires, motivating a team, reading a financial statement it takes experience. But what makes a good experience?
I get what Iverson was saying (although he should never have admitted it in public). Iverson -- like any professional -- realized the value of some preparation. He certainly worked hard over the years to hone his skills. But for some people there is such a thing as too much practice, too much rehearsal. It’s worse than diminishing returns -- it may have the opposite effect on their performance.
Many will say that by not preparing adequately we are putting our team in jeopardy or risking the success of a project. That was easy to say in Iverson's case after his team was eliminated from the playoffs. But some leaders just do better in the moment. By skipping practicing they're serving their companies and the people they represent the best way they can.
Some performers and leaders just get a charge from the experience. They need to take in an energy that doesn't exist in a staged environment. Some people -- and I'm one of them -- prefer to give it all in front of a crowd and take our lumps if we stumble. It's more real and it's more educational that way.
Whatever works, right?