Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Okay Plateau

When learning a new skill there comes a point when you've mastered it.


Even chess grand masters, world champion skaters, and famous cricketers (hello UK visitors) never master their skills.

They're much, much better than the rest of us are, but no skill is ever 'mastered'. What the world champions, grand masters, etc. are is 'they're much, much better than the rest of us'.

So how do they get there?

What happens is 'the rest of us' (you and me), we get to a point where we're comfortable with a skill and we decide 'There, I've mastered that' and we move on. 

This is called the Okay Plateau. As in, "I'm OK with that skill, I'll move on." Amateurs learn a skill and go on autopilot after that.

Big Mistake.

Going on Autopilot doesn't improve your skills
Getting a skill to an expert level requires challenging the skill in practice. If you just practice and are satisfied with the skill, then you probably will not reach expert skill levels. For example, chess grand masters spend enormous amounts of time on the basics, studying each move in the games of famous masters move by move. World champion skaters not only work on jumps but also skating skills. Amateurs spend their time on jumps and spins.

This is where deliberate practice comes in. In an earlier post I wrote about the concept of Achieving Failure. That's a two part concept. First, figure out how to do a skill in a way that you achieve an 'educational failure', a failure you can learn from. Sometimes it might mean doing something with more speed, other times odd entry angles, or different arm or body positions. It depends on the skill. Second, meticulously take apart that failure and fix it.

The problem is, in skating, fixing a skill is difficult for beginner skaters. We simply don't have the breadth of experience to analyze how to fix it.  We rely on our coaches or group classes. Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of things we have to learn. Kids usually learn basic skills quickly. But it's the rare child who has the mental maturity to focus on practice and work on skills that aren't naturally easy.

As adults we can do what most kid skaters can't do, we can apply our mental maturity to getting past the OK Plateau.  That means working to achieve an educational failure, then building the skills to fix that. Stroking along and doing things we're comfortable with won't hack it.

This means.....I have it in me to learn spins. And at least some half jumps. My age and my fears may stop me from going further, but there is no reason I can't learn single jumps with enough focus, time and fearlessness.

So those of you who are reading this, take heart. In theory, even if you didn't skate as a kid, even an axel is within your grasp! (with enough money, time, coaching, and good knees).

Skate Wisely. Skate with Focus. Kick yourself into action.


  1. Harder, better, faster, stronger--than last week!

  2. Great post. I had to show it to my husband, as it drives him absolutely bonkers when he hears/reads someone say that they've 'mastered' some basic skill at skating (usually in a Learn to Skate context). Our immediate reaction is always "Oh no you haven't!". Glad we're not the only ones who feel this way.