Making practice sessions count
Blogged by Ryan Hunter on Sunday, September 26th, 2010 (05:04 PM)

I have a few topics written down that I plan to talk about in future blog entries, but I chose this one to write about because I thought it would be more relevant after the last two entries I made, which were tips for beginners and then tips for experienced players. Those writings were geared towards educating players on aspects of the game they can improve on. Therefore, this entry is designed to explain how to take that new knowledge and apply it; in other words: how to make the most of practice sessions.

There is one thing must be made clear before anything can be discussed, because it is the foundation of the mindset a player should have for any serious practice session. The goal of the game during a practice session should be to improve, not to win. This alone is where most players fail. There are numerous reasons why it's important. For example, when a player is playing to win, they're likely to stick to what they already know rather then try new things. Another reason is that if a specific aspect of a player's game is weak, they will (perhaps subconsciously) put forth effort to avoid that aspect to increase their chances of winning, rather then try to improve that specific aspect of their game. The truth is, the player would improve their chances of winning in the long run by not avoiding that aspect, and instead working to improve upon it.

So if the goal should be to improve, what constitutes improving? Improving can mean several things, which brings me to my first point: set specific goals for a session. Before the practice session starts, decide on something specific to put effort into improving, and focus on doing (or not doing) that one thing for the entire session. Goals can be anything, from basic strategy, all the way to matchup-specific details. Here are some examples most players should be able to easily apply:

  • Stop using a specific move or sequence as much
  • Start using or experiment with a new move or sequence
  • Don't jump
  • Practice anti-airs
  • Practice a specific combo
  • Improve defense
  • Learn the basics of a matchup
  • Explore options in a common, specific situation (matchup specific)
  • React to a specific move with an action (matchup specific)
  • Punish a specific move (matchup specific) the best way possible

I've personally used all of these at some time or another, and am still using both this technique and some of these specific goals to this day. It's very easy to accidentally develop patterns and bad habits, but as long as the player looks at their own game to become aware of them, it's easy to fix, and is what most of the first topics on the list are aimed toward. For example, in a given situation, a player might always use a specific move or react a certain way. It's also possible that a player is overusing a move that is useful, but unsafe if abused. These are common habits that are easy to fall into, and overlook in the middle of matches. Watching recorded matches of yourself is an easy way to notice these kinds of patterns.

The end portion of the list is specific character and matchup goals, which brings me to my second point: the player must allow themselves opportunities to work towards the goal. What I mean is that, for example, if the goal of the session is to improve defense, the player should use as few reversals (if any) as possible. Using reversals is a method to try to avoid defending, and is counterproductive to the goal. By not using reversals, the player gives themselves an opportunity to improve defending. Considering this, it's easy to see how playing with the goal of winning can conflict with the goal of playing to improve.

This isn't to say that the player should go out of their way to put themselves into positions to practice certain things, or that the player should actively try to lose. There's a difference between playing differently for the purpose of practicing, and playing ineffectively. In other words, if the goal is to practice defense, that doesn't mean the player shouldn't attack, and just let the opponent do whatever they want. Additionally, sometimes the player can't make it too obvious what they are trying to practice, or they will lose opportunities to practice it. For example, if the goal is to practice anti-airs, the player cannot simply stand there, waiting for the opponent to jump. It might work at first, but (hopefully) the opponent will quickly catch on and stop jumping.

Finally, the last thing I want to talk about is understanding what can be learned from a specific match. Sometimes, certain conditions make a session conducive to learning or practicing certain things, but not at all to others. Understanding this helps a player make the most of their practice time. For example, for a specific session, if the player's opponent is someone on a significantly lower level then them, it may be difficult or even useless to practice defense, because the opponent's offense might not be strong enough.

Another extension of this idea is how to get value out of online play. Despite what some people will claim, playing online is not useless for the purpose of improving. However, the player must understand what things can be learned and practiced online and which cannot. For example, practicing combos can not only be useless due to lag, but can go as far as to be harmful if the player inadvertently learns to time their combos online and then cannot perform them offline.

Overall, playing online is suitable for practicing most things, but offline practice is generally better. However, there is one thing that playing online is exceptional at: learning matchups. Playing online is an almost invaluable tool for learning matchups. Not only for learning each matchup, but for learning everything about each matchup, and learning them in a relatively timely manner. A player might have a local Ryu player, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they know the Ryu matchup inside and out. There might be certain tools or tactics their specific Ryu player doesn't use that the player will have no experience with. Playing online gives a player access not only to every character, but to every play style of every character. When traveling to tournaments and playing unknown opponents, being familiar with multiple play styles of each character becomes incredibly important.

So these are the techniques I use to practice. I've been using them across many games to great success for a while now, and hopefully, they'll be helpful to some other people as well. If you have other methods that you use to practice that you've had success with, I'd be interested to hear them, so please share them in the comments below.

Good luck leveling up!

Posted by nothingxs on Sunday, September 26th, 2010 (05:27 PM)
To note: the timing of combos online is the same as offline as there is a consistent amount of input delay; doing things by timing rather than by eye is how you should be doing combos in the first place. Lag kills reactions more than it will ever kill timing. This is mainly why I can do the same combos online that I do in person with no real adjustment except for the fact that I rely more on innate timing rather than audiovisual feedback.
Posted by Ryan Hunter on Sunday, September 26th, 2010 (05:38 PM)
@nothingxs: That's true for most basic combos, but many combos involving lengthy moves or juggles often require the player to time a move by eye. These are the combos I was mostly referring to, but I should have been more specific in the entry. Still, I think it's a bad idea to try to practice combos online, in general, especially if the player has an alternative, even just plain training mode.
Posted by thekid on Sunday, September 26th, 2010 (07:28 PM)
I just wanted to say, that ever since you've started this blog it has really improved my game. These entries are really detailed and a great read for anyone just starting out or someone who has been playing for a long time. I can't wait to read future entries.
Posted by LuvMyCap on Sunday, September 26th, 2010 (10:30 PM)
I just want to said that I really appreciate all of this, oh and im a fan ha-ha.
Posted by Tone on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (01:25 AM)
Very informative and helpful article. Two times you confuse than and then grammatically. Just a heads up. Looking forward to the next article. Thank you for your contributions.
Posted by Mayu's Ocarina on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (01:38 AM)
There's a lot I could say, but I'll just say this:

Since I have been getting the news of your articles of SRK, it's been really insightful, as I've gotten really good in my local seen, but just sorta hit a wall to where I haven't seemed to get any better, I still don't know what to do.

Execution can always be worked on but other than that I'm at a loss. Mindgames, Reading the opponent, matchup knowledge, I guess I could learn on those too but I just feel something missing. What top players hav
Posted by Ryan Hunter on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (02:37 AM)
@thekid and @LuvMyCap: Nice to hear you're enjoying the blog. I have many more entries planned, so check back often.

@Tone on Monday: Glad you liked it. The whole "then" vs "than" thing, yeah, I'm terrible at that. I actually thought I was using the wrong one at certain points and meant to look it up before I posted, but I'm constantly writing down other notes on things I think of as I write, so I forgot :(
Posted by Ryan Hunter on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (02:39 AM)
@Mayu's Ocarina: I actually have some topics planned that are somewhat related to that, so hopefully in the next week or two, I'll have some suggestions and insight to offer on that kind of stuff :). Btw, looks like you ran out of room on your comment :X
Posted by Infil on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (02:59 AM)
"Then" describes a place in time (I did this, then I did this), and "than" is used as a comparison measure almost exclusively (something is harder than something else). That might help. :)

Also, these articles are interesting. In particular, I like the "playing to improve, not to win" comment, since that's counter-intuitive enough that it needs to be spelled out. I usually just want to win at all costs in every match, and I think it's detrimental to me overall.
Posted by brokenrice on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (03:31 AM)
Best thing that comes out of playing online is the battle log feature that records your replays. Watching my recorded matches helps me spots my mistakes and bad habits. I think analyzing yourself and spotting mistakes is the biggest key to improvement. After all you can't make corrections if you don't know it's a mistake. Even professional sports team uses this method. I HIGHLY recommend it.
Posted by Ryan Hunter on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (05:29 AM)
@Infil: Thanks, I'll refer back to this until I memorize it, haha. I've looked it up before, but I always forget. Also, I agree, I tried to stress the concept of "playing to improve" as much as I could, because I think it's an idea most players don't consider, and they should.
Posted by Ryan Hunter on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (05:30 AM)
@brokenrice: I agree 100%. I touched upon it very briefly, but yes, watching matches of yourself is an amazing way to discover bad habits and patterns. You said it perfectly: you can't correct it if you don't know you do it, so analyzing your own game play should always be the very first step, so you know what to work on.
Posted by Heidern98 on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (06:48 AM)
Good shit Ryan. One of the most pro sites out there for improving ones game. I am really enjoying your articles... Keep it up yo.
Posted by Private Eyeball on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (10:25 AM)
I love these posts. Even the stuff I already knew, its great to be able to read over. Keep it up! (b^_^)b
Posted by DanKC on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (04:23 PM)
Excellent article, Ryan! This is exactly how every player should approach improving their game. It's so easy to fall into bad habits and because of this it's so important to be consciously trying to focus on improving certain aspects of how you play. I'm really glad SRK has been mentioning your blogs on their news feed lately. Every player can benefit in some way from reading your blogs. Keep up the awesome work!
Posted by JaxJagsSUCK on Monday, September 27th, 2010 (05:08 PM)
Thanks. My game is steppin' up with every article and tutorial you guys toss out. Ryan, your Cody is the shiet. Keep doin' this homie. The time you put into this website and the blogs is beneficial.. moreso than you know.
Posted by SALSADRACX on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 (07:05 AM)
I am trying to switch from pad to stick which is proving difficult and frustrating - just like the great articles you post any chance of providing some tips from pad to stick - love the practise session....w'kd n respek!!!
Posted by Ryan Hunter on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 (04:48 PM)
@SALSADRACX: It's great that you're switching from pad to stick. Unfortunately, there's really no advice I can give you as far as ways to become comfortable on a stick, fast. I've had friends make the switch, and all I can tell you from their experiences is to stay with it no matter what. It's easy to get frustrated because you're having trouble doing things you could do without thinking on a pad, but don't go back. As long as you keep with it, you'll get there, and be happy you stuck with it.
Posted by brokenrice on Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 (08:32 PM)
@SALSADRACX I actually switched to stick less than a year ago, and I can say I am much better with it than the pad now. It took a few weeks to get used to, but I practiced in Versus mode vs a computer on max difficulty. I started with easier characters first like Ryu, or Balrog(for charge) because their moves are basic and combos are relatively easy to pull off. But remember to always to practice on BOTH sides of the screen and not just one direction. Other than that it just comes with time.
Posted by SALSADRACX on Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 (05:38 AM)
Thanks to both Ryan and brokenrice for the advice - yes it proves difficult when I know I can pull off two-in-ones without thinking on a pad and then struggling to pull off just a fireball/sonic boom --LOL!!! But I will stick with it...nuff respek...
Posted by Kryed on Tuesday, October 5th, 2010 (05:17 PM)
Really appeciate the articles ryan keep this up. Not sure if your done this already but is it possible you can write an article on developing a mix up for your charcter and developing mind games. i belive after the basics are learned sometimes players have a hard time developing these techniques and so they are stuck on square one and might develop bad habits.
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