Sunday, March 18, 2012

Deliberate Practice

One of the ideas I've been reading about over the past few months is the idea of 'deliberate practice'. This is a concept that has emerged over the last few years as a result of studies about how 'experts' gain their expertise.  I've decided to work on my skating by applying some of the principals of deliberate practice.

Now, I've read a number of books and articles on deliberate practice and some steps are unachievable for me (For example, practicing several hours a day and being under 20).  I love to skate, but it's a hobby. I'll implement the changes I can.

1. Practice the hard stuff first.
Start with the difficult skills first, while you're still fresh

I like to practice the warm and fuzzy stuff first: swing rolls, chasse's, cross rolls, etc. From now on I'm going to start by practicing with my uncomfortable skills: Back crosses, back stroking, back chasse's, back swingrolls.

2. Practice Intensely.
Have a set of drills planned out and stick to it. Don't be distracted by chit chat. Don't rest between drills. Focus on what you're doing, not on what other people are doing. Your skills don't get better because you're better or worse than another student; your skills get better because you work with focus.

3. Renew yourself.
Intense Practice can only be done in 90 minute sessions.

I've been doing a 2 hour freestyle. I'll try a 90 minute one, then break for lunch and practice another 90 minutes on public

4. Achieve failure.
One of the first ideas about deliberate practice is to make your practice harder so you achieve failure. Then break down that failure. Analyze it, and work towards fixing it.

For example, in my ice dance I prefer to do the dance slowly so I feel comfortable with it. To achieve failure the approach would be to do the dance at a faster beat, and identify where my problems are in the dance. Then go back and isolate the failures and work on them individually at the faster speed. All this sounds like a regular ice dance practice except for the instruction to practice up-tempo. By practicing up tempo I should be like a baseball player who swings a weighted bat before stepping to the plate. By practicing it under harder conditions, when I step back to regular tempo, it will seem easier.

So here's my goals for this week:
1. Practice my backwards skating first thing on the ice. Don't dither around warming up with skills I can already do well.
2. Have a set of drills planned for the day. So I'll start with backward stroking, then back chasse's, then back edges, and back crossovers. After that switch to the same forward. My goal is 2-3 minutes for each back skill and 1-2 minute for each forward skill. This will be followed by practice of other skills in a less structured format and dance practice.
3. Anticipate only 90 minutes on ice. Schedule my practice and lessons for that period of time. Followed by rest, and possible repeat later in the day.
4. Practice my dances solo by adding 10 beats per minute to the tempo. Instead of doing the Canasta Tango at 100 bpm, do it at 110 bpm.
5.  Focus on identifying and fixing critical errors identified during up tempo skating.

I'll try this form my practices this week, and see how it goes. I'll have 3.5 hours practice before my lesson, maybe that will bring about some small changes. I'll report back.


  1. I have been trying to practice the hard stuff first more this year - and it seems to be working! I used to do all the easy stuff and work into the hard stuff, but then I am tired or run out of time or get frustrated. Now I warm upon the easy stuff and after a few minutes go straight into the hard stuff. My new practice routine seems to be giving me better results. Also, after you do the hard things, the easy things seem even easier than normal, and you can focus on adding the finishing touches.

    Also, I have tried skating dances to faster tempos, and I think it is good when you are first learning a dance, especially if you have problems keeping up (for example, I skated some 100 bpm dances to 112 bpm to help me speed up my crosses and footwork). Once you can start doing it more easily at the regular tempo I wouldn't recommend skating it faster though because then you could start rushing the music. However, as a training tool I think it could be a helpful idea.

    As for the 90 minute practices - practice time is rare enough for me as it is, so if I get time I use it. Even if it means skating for 3 or 4 hours straight. Although I have noticed that the most productive days are those when I have a break between sessions (or go to different rinks for multiple practices), but I cannot skate often enough to limit myself to only 90 minutes at a time. Although, I usually only practice one discipline for 2 hours max, and then change the focus of my practice to something else.

    Anyway, overall I think you have some good goals for your skating - good luck, and hopefully you will notice improvement over the next few months.

    1. Good point about not doing the dance uptempo after the steps are learned.

  2. I was "deliberately practicing" a 7-step Mohawk combo last Tuesday in my weak direction and was "rewarded" with a busted arm. One must be prepared to suffer for one's art...

  3. Definitely work on your weaker elements first and longest. I try and use up my entire three or four-hour session, too, and give it structure by allotting specific chunks of time for each element I want to work on. Sometimes I'll assign a main focus to a session, for example, "Posture", so though I could be working on different elements I am working on them with the goal of Posture for each one. Sometimes it's Arm Positions, sometimes it's Sustaining Glide, and so forth. Most of the time, the thought process behind the practice is, "I had better have something that smacks of improvement to show the Coach this lesson so he doesn't think he wasted his time on me last lesson." So, Schafer Pushes for 45 minutes, anyone?

  4. I also used the concept of Deliberate Practice. When I was competing, my partner and I would get on the ice and do a runthrough with no warmup other than two laps. It was more than difficult to get through with no mistakes and our expectation was that we would make mistakes. Then we could focus on our weaknesses for the rest of the session. By the time we competed, a 5 minute warmup for our Original Dance seemed like a huge luxury!

    Happy dancing, Terri

    1. I've started doing my dance with 5 minutes warmup at the beginning of a session...age and weight are working against me. So far I haven't seen any improvement. I still do it, but I need to develop a better warmup routine.