Skill Acquisition/Learning [4]

What psychological and physiological state does an athlete need to be in order to acquire new skills, train to develop and refine existing skills, and to perfect skills and strategies already in their arsenal?

A state of flux, of change, of flow between a diffuse (zoomed out/wide perspective) mindset and a focused (zoomed in/detailed perspective) is a given.  Being stuck in either extreme blinds both coach and athlete to only one set of possibilities, to only one possible outcome, negating that alternatives exist. The result of this uni-pole uni-dimensional training is that the athlete trains at what they believe is an extreme effort, at an intensity and volume which they believe no other competitor can match, only to be blindsided, blown away in competition.

The resulting negative feedback loop is that the athlete zooms in with even greater intensity believing it was a lack of focus, a lack of intensity, a lack of volume, yielding one result each and every time… kaboom! Injury. Burn out. Max out. A short swift end to what could have been a life long career of endless possibilities.

The result of being blown away and blind sided in competition should be the opposite: zoom out.  Zoom out until the entire spectrum of the athlete, from mental, emotional and physical health and well-being, to the inventory of skills and strategy of the athlete, to training and competition experience are seen at a distant, so that all gaps can be identified. When coach and athlete zoom in, the solution will never be seen, as coach and athlete are staring myopically at the same wall they have always stared at; staring onto a fraction of the entire spectrum of possible performance problems. Unable to engage in a diffuse state, coach and athlete defer back to ‘that which they know’, return to the training that they know, repeat that which they know, and surprise surprise end up surprised with predictable results in racing.

Insufficient progress over significant periods of time is the terminus of careers, athletic, academic, in the arts and in business. The unfortunate aspect is that the individual typically retires without ever experiencing their true peak potential, without ever experiencing a true peak performance.

Why is this so?

Hi Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is lauded in article after article as the path to winning, to success, to peak performance.  HIIT is labelled as the primary training pattern of Olympians, World Champions, of World Record holders. Although HIIT is required and is used in the final stages of training – Learning and Training to Win – it is training which occurs only at the highest of intensities in Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model and only after years and years and years of conditioning to build a base, and of skill and strategy training.

LTAD - TAC11Focused highly specialized training is a high risk proposition requiring significant training and supervision due to the risks of injury, burn out and max out. But common sense has been obliterated as the marketing mania surrounding HIIT touts only its positives, refusing to reveal its negatives.

FUNdamentals are portrayed as training for children, yet inflexible, overweight, unhealthy and unfit adults who have less agility, balance, and coordination then children, want to pretend that they are pros, believe that they can skip past basic training, and progress to advanced training… because, they are adults.

We want the end result so badly, we want to pretend so badly that we didn’t let ourselves go since our university or college days, that we aren’t 30, 50 or 100 lbs overweight, that we really don’t have an arrhythmia, high blood pressure, unrelenting stiffness and soreness, insomnia, are at hi risk for diabetes, a stroke, and suffer quietly with anxieties (often over health) or depression.

We want to believe that we are still who we were back in our 20s, that we are unwilling to consider for a moment, whether what we are believing actually makes any sense whatsoever. That our health is truly as we want to believe it is, that our true state is not one of health, of fitness, of dynamic vitality, but of of dis-ease.

How can you solve a problem which you refuse to acknowledge is a problem, pretending it doesn’t exist, as if pretending to be healthy is the solution and will make you healthy?  You can’t.

Consider that professional cyclists who compete at the international level in road races using top of the line time trial equipment have spent years and years and years training and in so doing developed the physiology and the psychology to actually be able to achieve and sustain an extreme aerodynamic position while being able to exert themselves at the intensity required for international competition.

Consider now that the anyone who walks into a bike shop today can acquire comparable equipment to what the pros ride in the Tour de France, on an Olympic velodrome, or the World Time Trial Championships.  So with little to no training, no flexibility, a 9-5 career with an additional 2 hrs commuting time, plus a family, kids to drive to/from soccer, karate, swimming, why wouldn’t you start training just like a seasoned pro, why wouldn’t you start with top of the line equipment, right?

That’s the equivalent of handing the keys to a Formula One race car to someone who just completed their learners permit test and hasn’t taken driving lessons.  Its insane! Its asking for an accident, its a disaster in the making needing only enough ego and speed to become reality.

If you want health, if you want wellness, if you want mental flexibility, emotional stability and a dynamic physical body, then the reality is that the majority of marketing information is skewed against you achieving these goals. The information is skewed purposefully so that you believe that if you buy the image of health, of wellness, then you are whatever it is you want.

The path doesn’t come via carbon fiber bike, sport nutrition products, the lightest racing flats, the largest swim paddles or by spending a week at an altitude camp. The path to health, to wellness, and fitness comes from years and years and years of diffuse lo-intensity (i.e unspecialized) training performed daily.  Training which transforms the body’s energy systems to power the body with insurmountable efficiency, which transforms the mind’s ability to flow between states of narrow focus and wide perspective, which transforms the response of the individual to that of quiet confidence despite incredible pressure, tension, and stress, which progresses through skills, drills and strategy training step by step by step until they are executed from a state of unknown unknowns, resulting in a state of bliss, of harmony, of flow.

But hey… who has time for that.  We want to be pro athletes today. So short cuts reign. With instant gratification and self abusive solutions all the rage, HIIT has taken the stage as the go-to solution prescribed by exercise physiologists, coaches, personal trainers, and athletes so hyped on buying their way to the top, or selling their souls for the top that any sense of grounding is gone.

Does anyone care that children, that amateur athletes, that novice age groupers are becoming injured, burnt out, max out and end up gaining weight, losing confidence, giving up on goals long before they approach their physiological and psychological peaks?

Does anyone care that athletes aspiring to be National Champions, Olympians, World Champions are being driven into the ground by ego driven coaches and as a result are being destroyed physically, mentally, and emotionally, quit sport hating what once was a joy, passion?

Does anyone care that masters athletes striving to be healthy are suffering from increased pain, increasing stiffness, soreness, heart attacks, TIAs and strokes, from worsening blood pressure, from injuries, burn out and max outs, only to end up in worse health than when they started?

Slow steady training to induce a relaxed fun non-threatening environment allowing for learning, for evaluation, for analysis, for testing and experimentation repeated year after year after year is the process to health, to fitness, and to performance.  There are no short cuts.