Deliberate, Deep Practice for Ski Racing
Intense, Deliberate, Deep Practice
Deep or deliberate practice consists of breaking a technique into smaller skills, practicing one skill until it is perfected, then continuing. Athletes learn by stopping when an error occurs, reassessing and correcting their skills in the process of learning them, with immediate feedback and error-correction. These feedback loops make the brain myelinate the correct neural circuit again and again. It uses short, intense training that trims off the mistakes and hard wires the correct nerve paths through focused repetition.
Deep Practice Has Some Basic Concepts.
● Chunking: Break the skill into smaller, manageable chunks. Break the perfect turn into 3-5 manageable parts and create a practice for each.
● Imitation: If at all possible, find a video or watch one of an expert performing that skill and imitate it. Humans are wired as copy machines. Copy the best, not your best friend (Check out Mirror Neurons the next section).
● Visualize: Integrate visualization into practice. Visualize the way you want to ski before the run. Correct the bad habits before you begin.
● Focus and Intensity: Find a skill and really concentrate on it. Your brain will recognize the intensity that you are using and adds myelin correspondingly.
● Short Intense Bursts: The first 10 minutes are the most important. Fatigue slows the addition of myelin.
● Slow it Down: There are thousands of nerve cells firing to make your thumb move. The slower you go, the longer the focus is placed on each individual neural circuit, and the more the brain pays attention to that circuit. The more myelination it gets. It is not how fast you can do it, but how slow you can do it correctly.
Ben Hogan, who is known to have had the perfect golf swing, would practice so slowly that the ball would just fall off the tee when he made contact. Martial artists will practice in a pool so that they can slow down and isolate each movement.
Ben Hogans' slow motion practice routine
● Reach: Myelin doesn't build easily. We must actively reach out of our comfort zone toward a level that is just beyond our current ability, challenging ourselves just outside our current comforts, but not so far as to feel anxious. When something is too easy, our brain doesn't bother to pay as much attention. You should practice right on the edge of your abilities because that is how you push the edge a little bit further (See the section below for more information).
● Make Mistakes: If somebody were to watch you while you were practicing, they would probably wonder why you are making so many mistakes. I always tell my athletes that if they aren’t occasionally falling down during basic drills, they aren’t working hard enough or pushing themselves during turns and transitions. Practice beyond your ability, and your ability will catch up.
● Stop and Review: See if the output is where you thought it was. Use video analysis, coaching, and other methods to measure the results.
Do Not Use Speed or Time as a Measure Here!
We are Not Racing. We are Leaning!
● Fix It: Going slow also allows you to recognize errors. It's important to fix those errors as early as possible in order for the brain to identify the correct and incorrect neural circuits. Going slow doesn't allow you to get away with a ‘good enough’ technique. Near perfection should be demanded. Your brain adds mindlessly and mechanically, and if you practice the errors, your brain myelinates those connections that are bad habits.
● Repeat: Executing the desired skill correctly is only the beginning. You must get the brain to focus on the particular circuit through repetition. You must repeat the skill again and again, only before exhaustion. The skill must become the default reaction, as opposed to the exception.
“Don't practice it until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” -Unknown.
An example would be Moe Norman. Moe was so enthralled with practice, and practiced so much that he would need to use a paring knife to cut the calluses from his hands from over practicing. His weekly training would encompass 800 balls 5 times a week. In a golfing demonstration, Moe shot 1500 drives in three days. All of the drives landed within 15 yards of one another.
● Stop: Stop and take a break. Once you have achieved your goal for practice, allow your brain to catch up.
The Myelination process is a reaction. It responds best to short intense bursts of focus. The process pays attention to what you pay attention too.
Myelination only works one way. The brain cannot unmyelinated or unwrap a circuit. So this is why it is so important to correct bad habits/technique immediately. If you continue to use a neural circuit that is associated with a bad habit the brain will continue to add myelin and reinforce the habit. The brain has no way of knowing which circuit is good or bad. It just adds myelin to the one that is used the most. Still rotating at the bottom of the turn? Well the simple answer is that’s the neural circuit that has been myelinated
We all have roughly the same amount of Myelin. Scientists have found that the amount of myelin does not vary between people. Our brains produce roughly the same amount of myelin. All athletes have the same potential “Talent”. The main difference between top performers is how they have been able to myelinate and focus on the correct circuits.
The Myelination process slows with fatigue. Neural systems fatigue quickly, actually within minutes. With three to five minutes of sustained activity, neurons become less responsive. They need a rest (not unlike your muscles when you lift weights).
Insufficient sleep affects formation of Myelin. The components of myelin are replenished with good sleep (especially REM). When you sleep stem cells are stimulated to make oligodendrocytes which help to form more myelin. The opposite effect occurs while you are awake.
Refreshing the Correct Circuit. Myelin is dynamic tissue. It builds with more practice. There is no process to unmyelinated or unlearn something. However, myelin will decay slowly without practice. It is thought that myelin begins to degrade after about 12 weeks. This means that 90-120 days is the most amount of time that you can afford to not fire a specific circuit before it starts to be compromised. This is why you may feel moderately rusty after a few days of no practice, but take months or years off and it feels like starting from ground zero.