Lessons From A Master Teacher

When Coach Mendenhall and his staff chose this year's theme - "Raise the Bar" - the purpose of the motto was very much self-explanatory. The question one immediately asks is what types of things are the coaching staff going to implement for practice purposes to help the team reach a higher standard of excellence on the field. Today, we got a chance to see in part what those were.

The total amount of time allowed by the NCAA for practices is watched and regulated down to the very minute. The total amount of practice time is then divided up into individual "periods" in which coaches use these segments to develop their players and positions groups.

This year, Coach Mendenhall and his Cougar staff have shortened the length of each period in order to help achieve greater output. The affects were far more visible during this fall camp in comparison to that of this past spring.

"Coach Mendenhall read the Harvard Business Review to us," said outside linebacker Bryan Kehl. "It talked about being an expert and said that it didn't matter how long you practiced per se as much as how you practice, how wise you practice, and how efficient you practice."

Kehl said that Coach Mendenhall read to the team a story about a world-renowned concert pianist who felt unprepared because other pianists were practicing more than him.

"This pianist learned from his master piano teacher a valuable lesson," said Kehl. "His master teacher told him, ‘If you practice with your brain for two hours, you're going to be better than those guys that are only practicing with their fingers for two hours.' So Coach Mendenhall did what he has always done with everything else. He took that lesson and he applied it our practices."

The lesson to be had is that working through a longer stretch of practice may not yield greater results than working more intently in shorter periods of time.

"He told us that we are not going to practice as long this year through fall camp and throughout the season," Kehl said. "However, we're going to practice sharp, we're going to practice more efficiently, and that's what you saw out here today. Defensively, I thought we were very sharp out there today. The offense didn't have as much success against us out there today and that was to be expected because of our seasoned defense."

"Coach Mendenhall spoke to us that it doesn't really matter how many reps we get, but that every rep has to go 100 percent," said sophomore tight end Vic So'oto. "Even though we're only going 16 periods out here, it really feels like we're going 24 because we're going so fast and keeping the pace and tempo up. We're executing at an ever faster rate now and I noticed that practice and the execution was a lot faster today."

"What Coach Mendenhall did was he shortened the periods," said senior cornerback Andre Saulsberry. "There is no walking and the tempo is more like a NFL tempo."

For incoming true freshman defensive tackle Eathyn Manumaleuna, the greater speed and tempo of these Cougar practices was to be expected, but it still came as a bit of a surprise.

"Man, this is always one step ahead," said Manumaleuna while chuckling. "The speed is just top notch, especially coming right out of high school to college. You really don't know what to expect, but since my first day of practice last Saturday, I learned really quickly."

Some players even feel that the shorter, more intense time periods toys with their psyche.

"It's kind of a mental thing," said So'oto. "We come out here ready to play and took everything head on. So we know that any play that we are a part of, we have to hurry and make the most of it. We sprint in faster to get into our spots. We also run our routes faster and sprint off the field so we can try to have more time to play and practice."

"It's all in the mind, because players are thinking, ‘Okay, it's a shorter time period, so I can go all out,'" Saulsberry said. "Some people think because it is a shorter time period they can now go all out for the duration of the period. We don't have to save anything for later on and can just go all out and use up all of our ability for the entire period.

"We're all competing and we're all trying to play, so we're trying to get in there as fast as we can to do our thing. It may seem like it's going to be an easier practice, but it's really not. It actually forces you into a faster tempo where you are running non-stop with no rest. This is more of an NFL tempo now and it's going to pay off later on. It really feels good when we're done."

Along with the faster tempo and greater exhibition of effort, Coach Mendenhall's new practice time format may pay off on down the road as the season wears on.

"More reps equal more potential injury," said Kehl. "We're the type of team where we really can't really afford that. BYU, in comparison to other teams around the country, we have great talent at the first and second team levels, but we really don't have the type of talent at the three and four level that can just jump right in and not have a big drop off like some other programs have.

"One thing our coaches are focusing on is keeping our team healthy, and if we stay healthy we're going to be great this year. Being able to go more intense for shorter periods of time helps with that because you don't let up and lose focus in what you're doing. You're not just going through the motions."

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