Good Enough to Practice

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

Most of us think about practice as something we do in order to get good. We practice skills that we don’t have, with the end goal of being able to perform the skill. The truth is, this is only half of the value of practice. In this post, you’re going to learn about the idea of becoming good enough to practice.

Think about it: if the only purpose of practice was to work on something that you couldn’t do yet, then you would expect experts to spend most of their time practicing brand new things. Yet if you talk to any professional level performer, you’ll find just the opposite. Pro basketball players do free throw drills and practice setting screens; black belt martial artists work on their basic kicks and blocks; pro soccer players drill one-touch passing and agility sprints; ballet soloists spend hours at the barre working on their tendus; orchestra musicians practice scales and arpeggios every session. Why?

The answer is that practice trains your body and mind to repeat what you have done. As you develop your fluency with the skill, you are then able to make minor adjustments so you can perform the skill reliably when circumstances change. The fine-tuning aspect of practice is incredibly important: it’s no good to learn how to hold a one-footed spin if you can’t adjust to the stickiness of the floor, the power of your leader’s pulse, or how tired your ankles are at 3am. But this sort of fine tuning simply cannot occur until you can execute the core principles of the movement without effort. If you need to consciously think about holding your ankle to your leg when you balance on one foot, you won’t be able to think or react quickly enough to adjust the height of your free foot when your supporting leg wobbles.

The next time you practice, try changing your focus. Instead of asking what skill you need to practice, ask yourself what skill is good enough to practice. Find something that you can do well and try to discover just how much more you can do with that skill. It might be learning how to sustain or control a movement over a longer period of time, it might be how to adjust the movement in order to adapt to a different circumstance, or it might be polishing a transition that you never paid attention to before now.

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