In my travels, I get the opportunity to talk to learners of various sports and activities, from dance to sport, from academic pursuers to lifelong learners.
Here’s a little compilation of things that anyone seeking to learn a skill can pay attention to in order to increase their learning capability – what do I mean by this? Well there’s learning, and then there’s smart learning. There’s having a new skill then there’s applying a new skill effectively. There’s knowing your activity, and then there’s understanding the ways to excel in it. By increasing your capability as a learner, not just a doer of the activity, you will be able to learn better, DO more effectively, and deeply think about the emotional value you achieve from your hobby/passion!
Some of the things below may not be easy to think about or define clearly – we commit to most activities because we feel strongly emotionally bonded to them – and challenging they way you think/feel about any passion in order to surpass your current physical abilities, is arduous! It’s extremely hard to implement a lot of it as well, so for each item I’ve included a little action list, to help your thought process along.
1. Choose your coach
Many students stick with the first teacher they ever had, without trying anyone else, for reasons of comfort and familiarity. Some students stick with their coach because they are encouraging and nurturing. Some don’t leave their instructors despite them not being supportive, because they feel too fearful of the unknown.
A good coach will not just nurture you, nor would a good coach encourage you to never learn from anyone else. Find a coach who will give you honest feedback, who would be proud of you if you ever surpassed them, rather than feel threatened. Find an instructor who not only has genuine passion but also a personal commitment to their own continuous improvement. Experience challenges – do not go to a school where you are constantly lauded for being good – find a space where you can consistently be pushed to higher levels.
A good coach always pushes you hard, whilst being supportive. A great coach gives you consistent and thoughtful feedback without putting you down. A fabulous coach pushes themselves harder than they push you. An amazing coach teaches you to analyse the issues in your own skills so you can do effective self training. Find a coach that inspires you, and that you can trust 100%. Always have a coach, no matter how good you are – you are never beyond needing a coach, even when you are beyond needing a teacher. Note that most professionals have a coach themselves.
- Make a list of the qualities you want in a coach, and those you don’t desire
- Make a list of the feelings you want to experience when walking out of a great training session
- Have a think about whether you are experiencing the above right now
2. Establish Peer Reviews
Find a group of peers whom you can practice with. Meet regularly, whether it’s at a social event, you rent an appropriate space, or have a picnic in a park, and not just DO the activity blindly, but also give each other salient feedback over a drink after.
Discuss what you’ve learnt in class that week, provide information on other teachers, schools, events, and more. Discussion and community sharing is one of the best proven ways to improve knowledge dramatically, and contact and feedback is the quickest way to improve. Talking about the activity and its techniques is certainly a fantastic way to understand the intricacies of it better, and allowing your mind to explore and embrace the ideas behind certain skills.
- Write a few friends from the community an email, and organise to have an activity like dinner.
- Outline the kind of feedback you want about your skill, and explain your reasons for wanting peer review.
- Talk about the best classes you’ve experienced lately and ask them for theirs.
3. Learn to learn
Learning how to look at yourself and your instructor, and get maximum benefit from understanding what to look for, is a skill in itself. I call this “learning to learn” – where you get taught about how to be an effective learner of any sport/activity, and I frequently spend time in class going over this technique of learning to learn. Everyone knows one person who seems to pick everything up quicker – it’s not necessarily about innate talent – often, it’s because that person understands how to learn effectively.
Book a session in with your instructor to simply teach you about HOW they personally analyse you, and then watch yourself and your coach in a mirror, on camera, or self analyse on paper, and quickly imitate the analytical actions involved. This session should cover what the instructor is looking at how to improve your form and knowledge, as well as skills. This one session will change the way you think of learning, and ensure that you get huge mileage out of any classes you attend from now onwards!
- Book in a lesson with your instructor and ask for a lesson in how you can learn more effectively
- Write down the things you would like to change in your own skill level, and spend some time after each class/activity self-analysing as though you are your own coach.
4. Watch yourself
So many people hate watching themselves on video or in a mirror, or hate reviewing their own work – I’m one of them too! Watching yourself though, is the single most underrated thing in learning anything. It’s also the single hardest thing to do when reviewing your improvements/issues. In the past, I have asked friends or team mates to video each other. I also have recommended my students video themselves doing a routine after a class, so they can firstly have a record of what they learnt, but also have immediate comparison to how it looked when the instructors demonstrated it. This will give you incredible ability to identify issues as they are happening, and correct them with ease.
- Watch the videos/read your work/listening to a recording, and as you evaluate, jot down anything of interest - what you liked, what you didn’t like. At the end, explore the overall feeling you had about your experience, and decide the main things to work on.
- Every 3-4 months, rinse & repeat. Reflection is so important!
5. Find Joy
I nearly titled this “BE INSPIRED”, however rephrased it to reflect what I think is an often overlooked aspect of learning can be – finding joy. This can take many forms – sometimes you may spend so long working so hard on a skill that you lose enthusiasm. Sometimes you may feel jaded by the community, your progress, the lack of inspiration around you. You might feel bored by what you are working on, or feel that you’ve lost your mojo. These are all extremely common, and you are not alone.
My tactic – is to find joy. Rather than describe it more, here’s your action plan. Follow it, and remember all the simple things that drove you to this activity in the first place. I’ll bet my bottom dollar that it will re-ignite your passion for learning faster than anything else.
- Find joy in watching absolute beginners getting it so wrong that they are hysterically giggling, and remember when that was you.
- Find happiness in screaming and cheering on a group of peers doing your activity, no matter what or who it is. Go nuts being a great audience.
- Do a beginners class and remember the joys of learning simple things.
I hope this list has been helpful – becoming a good learner of any skill/activity whilst maintaining your enjoyment of it, and keeping clear goals, is not easy, and is certainly a reason that many people experience burnout or a dip in passion when they become intermediate or advanced at learning something. Having simple mindsets such as the above can hugely assist in clearing your mind and allowing you to focus on the activity itself, whilst staying an extremely effective learner!