7th December 2017

Complex Skills

We are all capable of learning complex skills. The fact that you are reading this is proof of that statement. When you were very small it was probably inconceivable that such a thing would be possible but you have mastered that specific skill, and many others.

If you think for a moment about how we learn complex skills you will see a pattern. We learn a little and practice a lot, learn a little more and practice a lot more and gradually over time we start to get better. It is an obvious pattern. Many of us become really quite expert in some very complex skills such as ballroom dancing, long distance running, sewing, gardening and training dogs. The pattern is always the same. Learn a little and practice a lot, rinse and repeat. To reach really high skill levels things change slightly. The learning tends to become much more structured. We usually refer to this type of bespoke individual learning as coaching. I can’t think of an elite athlete that doesn’t have a coach and you just need to look at professional tennis to understand the effects a great coach can have on an individual’s performance. The practice moves from simple repetition to deliberate practice, in other words practice specifically designed to improve performance.  Think of Jonny Wilkinson’s hours and hours of deliberate goal kicking practice. The deliberate practice and the coaching combine to focus on the very smallest details of performance that are the difference between a world class performer and an amateur.

If the goal is attractive enough and the routine fun enough it will be sufficient to keep the enthusiasm fired for long enough to devote the time needed for high performance. It is amazing how given a bit of coaching, enough practice and enough enthusiasm we can achieve the things that once seemed possible for others but impossible for us.

I recently saw a young lady perform a yoga move called, I believe, a reverse prayer where she managed to put her hands together, as though in prayer, behind her back, at the height of her shoulder blades. To me it looked as though it wasn’t humanly possible, other than the fact that she demonstrated it was. I realise that I can learn that skill, like any other, with a bit of coaching and a lot of practice.

We can all become more skilled at anything with a little learning and a lot of practice.