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Learning - leaps and plateaus, or gradual?

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
I'm very interested in how people learn athletic skills, and I'm curious to hear from people here what pattern their learning of expert skiing has taken. Has it been a gradual, slow process where every day has been marginally better than the previous one (in general)? Or has it been more a process where you suddenly 'get' something and progress considerably in a very short time, then stay at that level for a while until you 'get' something else?

I ask because skiing seems to be one of those interesting athletic skills where it is theoretically possible to do things reasonably well without ever having done it before (not that most people do, of course). That is, you might happen to just move in the correct way. You don't have to have specific strengths (at least not below an expert level). You do have to have very good balance, but might you have that anyway?

So is it graft and hard work, or is it 'road to Damascus' revelations? Or a mix?

J2R
post #2 of 29
Skiing's weird. You can be taught a new thing, feel it, enjoy it, and then lose the damn thing! I've had this happen countless times. The next time I learn that thing, it's easier and nice to re-find that lost thing...and it reminds me how much i need to understand mentally what I'm doing, so as I can hang onto things. Feeling and doing isn't enough.
I think that you can be learning subconsciously all the time, your body is learning even if you think you are not. But as for those "big" things, that you consciously know, I think it takes more intervention. When you learn that "new" thing, I reckon you really notice it, and feel it.
post #3 of 29
I always liked the quote "practice doesnt make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect". Ive noticed that when Im just skiing for fun (practice), I can have long plateus without much improvement. But when I am actually focused on improving myself (perfect practice), I improve more rapidly. I went for about 8 years at an upper intermediate level. And then when I finally applied myself and tried to improve, it took me about 4 years to go through advanced and reach expert. Granted I still have thousands of things to improve on, but with constant attention to my work ethic it makes improving much easier.
post #4 of 29
Interesting question! IMHO I have always liked skiing but it wasn't untill I took extensive lessons, clinics, and intense study that I realized, like most stuff, the more you know the more you realize you don't know. I have been blessed to receive great mentoring throughout my skiing/teaching carreer (13 years now)and I have had some real "ahahs" and plateaus as well Usually the plateaus have been when I thought I already knew enough. I'm happy to say my learning has not slowed down. Even though I have my level III, I continue to be exposed to new mentors that have had a huge positive affect on what I'm doing. My moral: learn all you can from all you can and see what happens
post #5 of 29
One of my instructors told me "When you have good stance & balance on black runs you are ready to START to learn to really ski"
post #6 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by fltlndr:
I have been blessed to receive great mentoring throughout my skiing/teaching carreer (13 years now)and I have had some real "ahahs" and plateaus as well
My own experience of this is that it's a case of leaps and plateaus* - I just haven't had any of the leaps yet [img]smile.gif[/img] Seriously, though, I have found it to be a game of sudden insights, where something falls into place (although as another poster pointed out, they don't always _stay_ in place). But I would like to know a little more about the 'graft' side, the things I have to actually work at (like building up strength).

J2R

*Or plateaux, for any pedants who happen to be reading.
post #7 of 29
For me it has been slow. After 12 years of skiing I feel I know a lot and understand the mechanics reasonably well for an amateur, but the body refuses to obey at all times.

Over the last few years there have been lots of "AHAs", but it takes many days and weeks on snow for the movement to be ingrained in my skiing.

I think I can keep improving for many years, but I doubt that I will ever reach my definition of "expert".
post #8 of 29
continual focused work, occasional "eureka!", but mostly it's been perfect practice to make it (almost) perfect.

no gigantic leaps forward for me.
post #9 of 29
J2R - I haven't found strength to really be a limiting factor... & I'm an overweight middle-aged female.....

I find my technical skills always far outway any lack of natural athletic ability on my behalf...
post #10 of 29
Quote:
Originally posted by disski:


I find my technical skills always far outway any lack of natural athletic ability on my behalf... [/QB]
ditto that [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img] I'm 54 and not getting any stronger but technique improvement has sure reduced the "work" my body does to achieve a better run. I can ski more and longer because I use better technique and my skeleton more and as a friend (78 years young) said "Your skeleton doesn't get tired"
post #11 of 29
For me, feeling "Eureka!" means I can do it, but I don't know how I did it.

Practicing until I can consciously repeat that feeling on demand is when the learning really takes place.
post #12 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BigE:
For me, feeling "Eureka!" means I can do it, but I don't know how I did it.

Practicing until I can consciously repeat that feeling on demand is when the learning really takes place.
I think this is a very shrewd observation.

J2R
post #13 of 29
Quote:
Originally posted by disski:
One of my instructors told me "When you have good stance & balance on black runs you are ready to START to learn to really ski"
That's rather accurate! Was it wonderboy? I know who it wasn't...
I'm finally feeling a bit of this coming now on steeper blacks, but also feel the lack of it especially in short turns where they are really vital. The new orthotics are doing wonders in that regard.
post #14 of 29
Quote:
Originally posted by ant:
</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by disski:
One of my instructors told me "When you have good stance & balance on black runs you are ready to START to learn to really ski"
That's rather accurate! Was it wonderboy? I know who it wasn't...
I'm finally feeling a bit of this coming now on steeper blacks, but also feel the lack of it especially in short turns where they are really vital. The new orthotics are doing wonders in that regard.
</font>[/quote]Actually it was the one you don't like....

Wonderboy just keeps pointing out that as you become a better skier you become more aware of what is happening & tend to like your skiing less... He still works VERY hard at improving... & he really doesn't ski that badly....(even demos )
post #15 of 29
you are kidding? How odd. He probably got it from someone else and didn't know what it meant...
post #16 of 29
My guess would be Mike Sodergren
post #17 of 29
When I first started to learn in earnest my progress was in small steps. My big limiting factor was my own defensiveness to even gentle forms of criticism. The more I learned, the more I dropped the defensiveness and the more I realized that some of my mentors new a great deal.

The learning became more of wow moments followed by leaps and bounds in my skiing right up to more wow moments.

Now that my ego has largely been destroyed by criticism and listening, I feel I have a great deal to offer and a great deal to learn.

Learning to turn off preconceived notions and actually listen to what someone is saying and then compare it to what I know has allowed my to fill in a lot of blank spaces even from instructors who don't ski and teach at my level.
post #18 of 29
My experience is that learning comes in the form of baby steps interrupted by occasional monumental leaps. I think it is the cumulative effect of the baby steps that provide the stable platform from which one can make those significant springs.
post #19 of 29
i have come a decent distance in the 60+ days i've skied over the five years i've been at it, BUT while i'm happy that i continue to progress, with the cool "a-HA!" moment here and there, what i am invariably left with is the knowledge that i am but a baby, still, where solid ski skills are concerned. the "more you learn, the more there is to learn" deal.

one thing that seems pertinent here is that for me, the skis still seem very foreign to me. they are not yet extensions of me, my body, the way i know they are for folks who, for example, have been at it for a long time and/or (this is what really stands out to me) learned when they were kids.
i am fairly attentive to how "natural" (or not) being in skis feels. they remain these things that i know want to be my friends, but they are as often adverserial. i look at them too often, as if to see if they're still there.

my cousin and i skied again last week at copper and beaver creek. we've done an annual trip the past four seasons. he's self-taught, never taken a lesson and gets down most runs fine. BUT he doesn't ski them. in short, he's going to be just another hack skier unless he decides to apply himself and take a lesson.
thing is, he finally sees this. he probably has gotten tired enough of leg fatigue caused by life in the backseat, and he sees know that our skiing together means i have to wait for him, and on not terribly challenging terrain.
he finally admitted that he skis the same way he did the first day he skied, and i think - i hope - he wants to do something about it.

i told him the only way he'll get better is by applying himself and enduring the mundane feeling "drilling" can induce. he may not and probably won't do it, but i think he's had enough of watching me get better each year while he is in the same place he's always been and will always be, unless he decides to do what it takes to get better.

it happens in small increments, in my experience, which accrue and result in epiphany-like moments, which are themselves platforms from which to dive into further lessoning, whether that comes from an instructor or oneself. mileage is necessary but mileage with a plan is the way.
post #20 of 29
I have often wondered how important "perfect
practice" is. I am a self taught swimmer and guitar player. I thought I was doing OK on my own.

When I took lessons I was introduced to a much more disciplined learning approach. The thrust of the approach is that every movement you make gets etched into muscle memory. Thus it is impertive not to practice errors. In guitar playing this translates into playing slowly enough to avoid errors. Similarly if trying to perfect an efficient swimming style it is necessary to work patiently and purposefully on correct movements. In both cases any time spent playing/swimming with sloppy form is time wasted or regression.

If we applied this strict discipline to skiing it would be necessary to spend days on end on blue runs focussing on controlled movements and avoiding defensive situations like the plague. However most people seem to approach the process of learning to ski with a much more pragmatic approach. For example I was coaxed down a (double) black run during my 1st week of skiing. The consesus when I eventually got to the bottom was that the experience had done me good. If I applied my guitar playing learning philosophy the experience would be considered a disaster.

Thoughts anyone ...
post #21 of 29
It does help to ski on less than comfortable terrrain, providing that it's not so hard that you fail to attempt good skiing and fall into the locked-legged grip of fear.

A challenging pitch or bumpy terrain is great for balance skills. But not if you must side-slip it all the way down. And especially if you don't understand what balance skills are! Kids are a different matter....

The terrain should be nearly within your grasp, but you should be just a bit uncomfortable. eg. A beginner should avoid full bump runs, but should still ski over rollers, to learn to stay with the skis, and not lock up bracing against the increased pitch.
post #22 of 29
Quote:
Originally posted by James Powrie:


If we applied this strict discipline to skiing it would be necessary to spend days on end on blue runs focussing on controlled movements and avoiding defensive situations like the plague.
Well I actually did this.... No that doesn't mean I was never challengd while learning to ski... simply that while trying to learn & refine movement patterns I would spend DAYS skiing up and down the same intermediate run doing the same sets of exercises or skiing with the same focus.... I would take a lesson for the morning then keep working on the smae thing in the afternoon...

The trick is to use the early & late season 'bad snow' times as training time for when the good snow comes & you want to go 'play' & get challenged....

Also use summer to train movement patterns - that gives you an even earlier start....

Remember we have a stupidly short season - if it is doable here it is surely doable there....

BTW - the lessons are important for 'feedback' so you know you are practicing RIGHT!
post #23 of 29
james, you're correct! I am (well, more accurately *was*) a self-taught skier. It's amazing how with the help of a good coach/mentor/teacher we can see the differences between "effective" and "efficient" (I credit Weems for that nice distinction). As I've said in here before, when I was at my youthful peak skiing activity (mid 20s) I thought I was one of the best skiers on the hill wherever I went.

Then 3 seasons ago I started working with a real guru, and he taught me just how little I knew, and just how far I'd have to go to even become one of the *decent* skiers on the hill, much less one of the best.

Amazing how these things startle the self-taught, isn't it?

post #24 of 29
[quote]Originally posted by ant:
[QB] Skiing's weird. You can be taught a new thing, feel it, enjoy it, and then lose the damn thing!


I used to ski a lot more than I do now. Also a lot more challenging terrain and I never really thought of it the way Ant puts it, but she's exactly right. Someone also mentioned muscle memory. I believe that is incredibly important; when you're in shape and in practice your brain doesn't have to focus on so many aspects - they just happen - and it frees the mind for fine tuning. I play guitar too and it's exactly the same there. If I don't play for a while it takes weeks of practice just to get back to where I was.
post #25 of 29
Actually I find that if I get the time to work at something enough I don't tend to lose it Although I always worry I will.

I do tend to lose stuff I am just starting to get at the end of season - although I get it back faster the next time around.


The trick is you really need to have got something TOTALLY to not lose it...

Like the riding a bike idea - you remember how because you did it a LOT as a kid (well I didn't & I still can't ride but...)

If you have 'got' something but don't 'OWN' it yet you will lose it...
post #26 of 29
I am still intrigued by the subtle distinctions between learning philosophy in say guitar and skiing.

For example in skiing I need to work on my short turns. My strategy to do this is to imagine myself in a narrow corridor on a relatively easy slope and conciously focus on turning rythmically with anticipation. I spend most of my time making sloppy turns while searching for the movement and feel of good short turns. Whilst this probably sounds like a niave strategy for learning, I suspect many skiers learn this way.

If I applied the same approach to learning a new piece of music I would in effect be muddling my way through the music (making numerous mistakes along the way), hoping to gradually iron out the errors through concentration and repetition. From my formal guitar lessons a few years ago I recognise that this would be a very poor learning strategy. This is because everytime I muddled my way through the new piece of music I would be learning my mistakes. The way to avoid this is to play at a speed where mistakes can be avoided, even if this is painfully slow.

Unfortunately there does not appear to be an equivalent of "playing slowly" in skiing. I don't think I can learn short swings by skiing at 1 m.p.h. It seems that the analogy between skiing and playing music breaks down because in skiing many skills have to be applied simultaneously. It a bit like learning a back dive. THere is no gradual way to do it. You just have to pluck of the courage and go for it. I am told the same applies to dropping into a 1/2 pipe, on a skateboard.
post #27 of 29
james -- for the short turns "feeling" practice, are you on a gentle slope? should be a green or very mild blue run, one that lets you move with gravity but doesn't get you up to a speed that triggers defensive movements (reversion to habit). you need to be going slowly enough that you actually can experiment with different ways of standing on the skis, different ways of loading them (pressure), and the real kicker is that you WILL feel the differences when you are doing it correctly (edge first, then feel the edgelock, then modify the pressure and its sequence).

give it a try, I'll bet you will find it very enjoyable. [img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img]
post #28 of 29
It is Punctuated Equilibriam (to borrow a phrase from evolutionary science). I have breakthrus that I build on.

As but one of many personal examples, I was focusing on foot and ankle movements to initiate turns and was totally missing the upper body. I got that fixed and made rather immediate large progress.

One of the interesting things about sking is how often the "natural" move is the wrong move. But once you practice the correct move how quickly it becomes natural. Like, our tendency on steeps is to not lean down the hill out of our normal standing around need not to fall. But in sking, doing this is the direct oppisite of what you need to do to prevent falling as you will unweight your tips and lose all control.

Anyway - it's been a very fun 1st year of skiing for me.
post #29 of 29
Quote:
Originally posted by James Powrie:

Unfortunately there does not appear to be an equivalent of "playing slowly" in skiing.
There is - but it is not necessarily 'slowly' as in timing wise...

It is perfecting the movements & skills in situations where they can be honed...

If they could not be taught like this I don't think I could have learnt to ski.... Now I can learn the way you say 'everyone' learns(sometimes)... I could NOT have done that originally... Nor was it helping me get past intermediate (my previous instructor taught that way - it was how she learned.) It took the current crop - who are racers - to be able to pull moves apart & teach me the way I needed to learn.

Most people may try to learn as you described... a fair number fail on this strategy - look at all the intermediates.... I think you will find the same happens to those who teach themselves guitar - they stall....

In order to learn to ski higher level I was made to go back to pre-parallel days & refine movements.... I am still regular FORCED to go & hone skills at slow speeds on baby slopes doing power-plows & snow-plow wedels & snow-plow turns etc etc... I am shown the 'flaws' in my technique at this speed & then work at eliminating them... THEN I get to go back & ski blue runs focusing on the movement pattern & trying to NOT do the fault we have been eliminating... etc etc etc
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