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How to improve your performance through practice.

As an adventure sports coach and outdoor adventure educator I find myself telling my athletes and learners that they need to find more time 'to practice' their skills and knowledge. I start to feel like a broken record, and I feel as if I'm dodging part of my responsibility as a teacher and coach. However, I remind myself that one of the unique aspects of adventure sports and outdoor pursuits is the emphasis on fostering independence in our athletes and learners. That's a huge part of why they came to us in the first place!


Athlete developing route selection in gorge walking.

It's impractical for them to always have a coach or teacher there to observe, assess, and provide feedback. I'm pretty sure if that did happen, whatever fun or enjoyment that athlete had would disappear like an ebbing tide. Alongside 'killing the fun,' too much feedback can create a dependent athlete who lacks confidence to work out their own solutions for their performance environments.



Athlete receiving feedback and support from coach.

That brings us back to the point of 'practice.' It's important to keep in mind that just because you do something a lot, it doesn't mean that you are going to get better at it. We see this every day with people driving poorly despite years at the wheel. Vince Lombardi concisely stated that, "Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect." Now without going too deep into a 'rabbit hole' our practice doesn't need to be 'perfect' it just needs to be deliberate. In other words, their needs to be intentionality. When practicing there needs to be an intense focus on developing small goals that blend into achieving larger goals. This type of practice is demanding and cannot be sustained indefinitely.


Student paddlers practicing rescue skills.

The simple part here involves setting goals, work on achieving them, and reassessing progress. It's always nice to have a concise process, however don't assume this is going to be easy. Otherwise, why would you be reading this in the first place? The difficult part comes in setting appropriate goals, creating suitable practice environments, and continued reflection. This is an area I believe that adventure sport coaches and outdoor adventure educators need to spend more time on. Our athletes and learners may be able to figure most of this out on their own, but that may occur through a long, messy process. We can facilitate and augment this by sharing with them strategies on setting goals, figuring out ideal locations and circumstances for practicing, and methods for ongoing reflection.


Students practicing their WFA patient assessment skills.

Development in adventure sports and outdoor pursuits is not linear. There may be significant gains, regressions, and periods of stagnation. These are all part of the learning process, and should be expected and accepted. That simple process of goals, practice, and reassess needs one other critical factor, and that is motivation. Without motivation it will be difficult, and more likely impossible, to get past the challenges and obstacles that you'll face. What athletes and students need is to have a range of motivation, and they should include internal and external factors. A strong personal desire to achieve coupled with a peer group that pushes each other is a great example.


Paddlers assisting each other on their launch.

For coaches and instructors, we need to remember that our athletes and learners need to work on their skills and knowledge independent of us. We can't be there for everything. We also need to ensure that we create experiences for them to develop and own their ability to practice without us. For athletes and learners, you need to be prepared to practice on your own. That means taking initiative to plan for and monitor your development.


I'd like to leave you with another quote that fits into this notion of improving through practice, "Success isn't always about greatness. It's about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come." - Dwayne Johnson

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