“Practice Makes Perfect” – Not necessarily.
To learn a new skill or movement we must repeat it over and over again so that it passes from Short Term Memory into Long Term Memory. Repeated practice forms a memory ‘engram’ which is like a brain program in computing terms.
Skills only retained in the STM will fade if not used and be unreliable, often they have to be accessed consciously, i.e. you have to think about it to do it.
Skills practiced until they become instinctive will have fixed themselves into LTM and are available to us on a subconscious level, i.e. you will react to external stimulus without having to think.
“Practice Makes Permanent”
It is at the stage where we try to commit the skill or movement into LTM that it is most important that we are precise with our practice.
Practicing a skill poorly will create a LTM of that poor skill, simply repeating a bad skill will never make it better, only harder to correct. Changing a skill that is set in our LTM is far harder than learning the skill correctly in the first place.
As a coach we must strive for perfection in our learners otherwise we are simply allowing them to absorb a sub-standard skill. In the long term they will not thank us for the extra work they have to do in the future to correct a poorly learnt skill. It is our job to find ways of making this perfect practice enjoyable and varied to keep our learners happy.
As learners ourselves it is important to know when to stop practicing. Tiredness or repetitiveness usually leads to a drop in concentration and a slipping of standards of practice. It is far better to stop and rest or move onto something else than continue to practice in a tired or agitated state. Stop, have fun, and when recovered, return to the skill.
So next time you hear “Practice Makes Perfect” you can politely correct the speaker by explaining the modern coaching take on this old phrase:
“Practice Makes Permanent – Only Perfect Practice Makes Permanent Perfection”
Practicing a skill or technique with only one set of variables will produce a memory ‘engram’ (or brain ‘program’ if you like) that will be reliable when used in real life only when those same variables present themselves. The danger comes when we try to use a skill in a different scenario.
If the skill is only practiced in one scenario then the skill – however good – will only be reliable when that scenario happens.
Take a skill or technique and practice it with as many variables as possible using different environments and equipment. Only doing this creates a truely all round skill that is reliable in all environments.
Practice should be fun and even messing about with a skill is valuable learning –
Try rolling a kayak with someone hugging it!
I had a conversation recently about how when things in life build up in a huge mental to-do list we can become overwhelmed and loose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. Now I’m not talking about ‘go shopping’ type things but big life events like qualifications, marriage, work etc… My theory on this is that we can be subconsciously worried that we’ll forget about something important or something that we have to do. We won’t let the to-do list be forgotten in case we miss something. This (if your anything like me) will lead to poor sleep at night and a general inability to concentrate on other things.
The first step to clearing your head is to get it all out. Grab a pen and paper and write down everything that you are thinking about. Transfer the pressure of memory to the piece of paper and free up some mental space!
List each worry/job/task/impending event as it comes to you.
Put a timescale against the things that have a fixed date or time pressure on them.
Write down all the smaller jobs you have in the back of your mind that contribute towards the bigger items.
So now you’ve poured your concerns and jobs onto the paper you can switch off your brain without fear of forgetting things.
To begin to tackle the associated worries remember this: throwing and catching 1 ball is far easier than juggling with 5 or 6. Deal with each item one at a time in order of their deadline.
Identify the items that are not important and move them to the bottom of your list.
Write down things that you need to do , even if its only one sleep away i.e. ‘Ring Dave in morning re interview’.
Work through your list methodically over time and always add new items in but more importantly, don’t forget to cross out what you’ve done. This is a huge mental relaxer as you’ll be able to see that you’re making progress.
I am an obsessive diary scribbler, I regularly take notes of things I need to do, even on that day I’ll be doing them and also making notes of what I’ve done. When idle my diary tends to sit open and display the colour co-ordinated year planner with all my work and meeting commitments.
I’ve done this for years but have only now come to realise as a result of that conversation that this is my own coping strategy and the staring at the year planner is probably all down to my dominant visual learning/memory style.
In summary – Don’t keep everything in your head, get it down on paper so you can switch off.
Anyone who is involved in coaching will know the benefit of goal setting to learners but how many of us have really tried to apply the same coaching principals we use on others to our own lives. Next time you have a problem, think ‘how would I coach someone through this?’ and apply answer to yourself.
Lastly, never forget that you have friends and partners to talk to. A problem shared…..