Ski Learning – how to change for the better

Getting to know the shape of a ski learning curve is a powerful way to learning how to ski better, and become the skier you always wanted to be.

The general shape of any learning curve looks like this:

Sigmoind learning curve

I was reminded recently of a ski learning danger that lurks amongst our strongest motivations. 

When we are strongly motivated to improve at something, there lies waiting for us an equally strong motivation to start from where we are NOW.

Obviously, in one sense we cannot start from anywhere else, but sometimes you need to go “backwards” and deliberately undo some stuff, and that is hard to do.

As dedicated Bobski followers will know, I am currently in the process of becoming a rock music legend having taken up bass guitar a few months ago. As a way of re-connecting with the difficulties of learning something new, and what that feels like, it is unbeatable.

Learning, ski learning or any other kind, cannot be observed per se, the fact that it has/has not occurred can only be deduced from the observation that certain behaviours have changed relatively permanently.  From that you can also deduce whether or not the changes are what the pupil wants.

For a while – and the time taken cannot be predicted – effort is put in and not much seems to happen.  Then all of a sudden (it seems to the participant) big changes occur.  Some time later, the same amount of effort once more brings about little change; this time because what is being learned has been learned.

This is all very well, but an assumption made here is that the nature of the change is what is desired.  This is not necessarily the case.  It will only be the case if the learning process is such that it brings about the kind of changes desired. Unless great care is taken in selecting the optimal processes, it is perfectly possible that what gets learned does not deliver what the learner wants.

Practice makes permanent, not perfect.  This applies to ski learning exactly as it applies to learning anything else. More ideas on this here in an earlier post.

Take my guitar learning for example.  I was persuaded to have a go at it by a friend who was a professional musician who played with all sorts of bands and soloists whose names would be familiar to you.  He is very good at playing guitar but not so good at teaching guitar.  This is because he has been too good at it for too long.

I have a friend who was excellent at maths but found he couldn’t teach it well so he took up biology (which he found difficult) and proved to be very effective indeed.

I came across another example a while back with a skier who is dissatisfied with their ski learning, gave up, but tried again to see how they were now getting on.  It was not a success.  It was demotivating.  Nothing physically had changed apparently, so the result was a debilitating psychological blow.

Be careful what you practice.

My “take” on this is that what they have done is to go back and repeat a process which had been shown to be ineffective for them in the first place, in the hope that a different result would come about.  It won’t.  Use a different process.

It is my strong belief that the reason for this unfortunate, but not irreversible, experience is a lack of appreciation of how learning is achieved.  Without knowing the process, and its various stages it is all too easy to get discouraged. Partly this is because we tend to expect too much too soon.  We want to get onto the steep part of the learning curve long before it is either likely or appropriate.  The end result is the disappointment felt because we expected, or hoped, or desired, faster progress than it was realistic to expect.

How to feel happier about it.

Here’s another depiction of the learning curve, with added observations about how we all tend to feel at various stages along it.

Learning progress inhibitors

Another way to summarise these stages is to call the four of them –

1. Unconscious incompetence (bliss!),

2. Conscious incompetence (miserable feeling),

3. a movement toward conscious competence (very satisfying and motivating) and

4. Unconscious competence, when you can do things without thinking about them. (Why Bill Wyman is Bill Wyman, and I’m not!)

It would be natural to feel a bit downcast upon discovering that one was no good at something, when you previously thought you were.  But that feeling does not need to persist, in fact recognition of these ski learning curves reveals that the future can be bright.

Think back to when you were learning to drive.  At first you could not even steer in a straight line, never mind go round bends.  And the idea of pressing the clutch pedal, changing gear and steering at the same time, while watching for other road users and singing along to the radio was completely out of reach.

A good thing to remember is this – there is absolutely NO reason at all why you should be on a different point of your learning curve than you are.  Wherever it is, that is precisely where you should be.  Your location is the expression of all the influences in your life so far that have got you there.  I recommend that you get rid of “could-a, should-a, ought-a”, it is meaningless and negative.

Sport Psychologists use another learning curve tool.

Sport psychologists refer to three learning stages – what they call Cognitive, Associative, and Autonomic Stage one is characterised by confusion, lots of “trying to work out what’s going on;  what I am supposed to be doing;  am I doing it:  was that it ? etc. This is the early flat part of the curve.

Associative is what we would call practice.  We wandered about all over the road.  We experimented with how much to turn the steering wheel and so on, and one day did it right.  Wow!  All we have to do now is lots of repetitions (my guitar practice if you like) at first with not many successes, and then with increasingly few errors.

Finally we can play the right notes in the right order every time.  That’s autonomous or it is until smarty pants tells me I have to do it in the right time as well.  At which point I am sent back to the cognitive flat part of the curve again, but this time with greater hope of eventual success. There is a good simple explanation of this here from a University in Australia.  It is not lengthy and is worth a look.

Why a good ski coaching course can help.

Why do I mention all this?  It is because if something is not working for you in your ski learning it may be because it never will, it may simply not be the process that will get you what you want.  This is why going on a good skiing course with a skiing coach is a good idea.  Following a ski instructor down a slope when you are number nine in the snake of followers may not work for you.  If you know of anyone for whom it does work, let me know.

On the other hand even when the process is correct;  even when you have passed into the practice phase, progress may well take some (unpredictable) time for “lift off” to occur. Beware of short-changing yourself by expecting too much too soon, and getting demotivated.  The good news is that from the very first moment that you “do it right” (whatever “it” is), then provided you persist, your success is inevitable.

My pupils have been the best example I have come across of Frank Dick’s dictum that you can do anything if you want it, believe it is possible, (it is, by the way) and persist.  (More about Frank here ). It does not have to be easy, or instantaneous – indeed it is more satisfying if it is not.

And that brings me full circle back to my pursuit of Rock Legendry.  Just think, I was the oldest person to qualify as an International Coach, and may end up as the oldest Bass Guitar God ever.  Jaco Pastorius eat your heart out!

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