Since doing the ‘pistol flip’ in 2008 lots of people have asked me why I did it without practising first, or why not try it into a swimming pool or foam pit. Well the truth is, I did practice it…thousands of times actually. I practiced it until it was inch perfect. However all this practice went on inside my head and in this write up I want to share the idea that visualisation is a powerful way to learn new tricks and improve your skiing!
(I’ll be referencing the pistol flip as an example to illustrate my point about learning, purely as it serves as a good example, before you think I have a man crush on myself and I’m being to self indulgent, ha.)
Gona kick things off by asking, whats your state of mind when you’ve had a bad days riding? Take a moment to think about this.
Do you get annoyed with yourself and feel like your not improving, or maybe question your natural ability as a skier? Are bumps, bruises and other injuries the risk you accept as a skier to improve? This was my thinking until I decided to break down and understand the specific building blocks of my riding.
I believe the Way you train yourself to learn new tricks has the biggest impact on your skiing. If you can learn at your most optimum level, improving and retaining new skills becomes a whole lot easier. The key to success is figuring out the strategies that work best for you!
Analyzing biomechanics and developing precise take offs and landings is a great building block, on which to add tricks. It wasn’t until I questioned the methods of HOW I learn that I figured out the ‘bad habits’ that had crept into my riding. (I plan to write about this in another post though.)
Today I want to look at understanding your body movements when your in the air or on a rail, as this is fundamental to the learning new tricks. So how do you learn to do something that your body has never been done before? Simple…visualisation!
I studied psychology at A-level which sparked my interest in the mind and the concept of learning. Looking back through my old text books I found this exercise which I’d like you to read. When you’ve read it, close your eyes and imagine yourself carrying out the actions.
‘Your in your kitchen, you take a fresh lemon from the fruit basket. It’s cool as it sits in the palm of your hand, the outer skin looks smooth and waxy. It’s a rather large lemon and heavy for its size. As you raise the lemon to your nose it has that wonderfully characteristic citrus smell. Taking a sharp knife you cut the lemon in half and as the sides fall apart, pale drops of pulpy citrus juice ooooooze out. The smell is now much stronger and it seems to fill the kitchen with a new scent. Finally you bite into the lemon and let the juice swirl around in your mouth.’
So what was your physical response when you read that, Did your mouth water? Did you believe you could actually smell the lemon?
Ok this starts to get a bit sciency but if you did have some sort of physiological response then you’ve just experienced something called synaesthesia. Synaethesia is the process of getting a physical sensation from an imagined experience. Nothing actually happened…there was no lemon… your imagination created a physiological response!
This example is meant to illustrate that your subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between what is real and what is vividly imagined! So if you practice and visualize tricks in your head your subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between that and actually being on the slope practicing. I’m not saying it’s the same thing but I’m suggesting you can do a large amount of your practice without even clipping into a pair of skis.
(You can try the above test on your friend, get them to close there eyes and read the exercise to them, note down any physical responses.)
So when I was skiing in summer of 2007 with my friends and we had the idea of doing doubles for the first time, I spent days and days running it though in my head. I played through what I thought this double spin thousands of times, practicing it over and over, looking at it from every angle, making it stronger and more vivid in my imagination.
Although I didn’t understand what I was doing at the time looking back I think this repetition was slowly hard wiring it into my brain. I had pictured it in my head from landing to take off so when the bad weather cleared after 3 or 4 days I was feeling pretty confident.
Visualisation is a powerful skill and everyone can do it, however it can take time to master and use effectively! Below I’ve written some tips on what I’ve found are the best ways to use it and apply it to skiing.
Visualization can be split into 2 different types, Association and Disassociation.
Association, you feel the experience and see the situation through your own eyes. This is extremely valuable when you’re getting a feel for your body moving around in the air and general spatial awareness. Referenced as 1st position
Disassociation, you imagine seeing yourself doing the trick from another perspective. In this position you allow for a removed sense seeing a trick as an observer, standing on the knuckle of a jump and watching for example. This is extremely valuable for detecting hand and body movements and limitations. Referenced as 2nd position. This exercise below was again taken out of an old psychology txt book.
Exercise 2: Performing Visualization
1 1. Relax your body with breathing and body exercises.
2. See yourself ready to begin the event. All necessary instruments should be included in your visualization surroundings.
3. Place yourself into 1st position. Maximize the association of the kinaesthetic channel. (kinaesthetic means movement, so play through and try to feel the movements of your body)
4. Move to 2nd position and begin to issue technical commands to your nervous system. Issue the commands in the correct order and sequence.
5. Move to 1st position and begin the physical action
This is a simple excessive If you do this correctly it should allow for complete perfection while learning. It is important to note that an instructor a a detailed program is always essential during the learning process.
The main benefit about this method of learning is that it can be rehearsed as much as you like, wherever you like. Being English often means you don’t get as much time on snow as American or other European riders. Off the bat this is a huge disadvantage but I think if you master the art of visualization you can claw back some of those hours.
I’ve found the best time is lying in bed before going to sleep. If you do it enough you’ll find it creeping into your dream as well. During the winter I would drift off to sleep thinking about a bunch of new tricks, dream about them, wake up the next day and feel confident enough, knowing I had it down in my own head. Watching ski films really helps this process as well.
Now the other great thing about visualising is no mistakes, you either know it and you can see it feel it and hear it…or u don’t. If you shape the trick correctly, your mind will not allow for error, the result then becomes perfect learning!!
This technique isn’t just for new tricks, its great for working on other things, for example style, slow all your movements down and concentrate on body position, how your grabbing, what position in the trick your looking for the landing and what angle is your body at this moment etc. when skiing it can be hard to think of all these at once. Similarly to when u first learn to drive, to start off with it all seems overwhelming and there’s a lot to remember. Practice makes it become habit and by visualizing you can concentrate on one specific area at a time, practice that individual area until it becoming totally natural and a force of habit.
For this to work effectively it is important to remember that the image in your mind needs to be as vivid and detailed as possible. Make it colourful, look at details, think about your other senses and use them.
Skiing is such a mental thing! Visualization can help to build confidence and belief because if you can see yourself doing a trick from start to finish, stomping the landing and riding away with steeze, then you start to trust your own body and what you can do with it.
As well as fine-tuning your skiing it can also give you a lot less injuries. If you can clearly see and understand what you’re asking your body to do, you’ll be in a far better position to be able to do it. If your on the slope and your unsure of the trick your about to do, stop for a second, make it clear in your mind from start to finish, and only when you feel confident about what your gona do then go for it. Until something becomes second nature it requires a lot of metal though and the majority of my injuries have occurred when I’ve done the opposite to this.
So I hope other skiers may find this useful and it will help to develop their riding. Bare in mind mastering this skill takes practice and time. I’ve haven’t tort this to others before so im unaware how long it takes. However when this skill is effectively mastered I believe it has tremendous power and can help you learn all kinds of new things with a new found speed!
Waiting around at a competition and then having to throw down your best run can be demanding. Imagine the impact on your skiing if you could turn on your high-performance state at will. I’ll be talking about a term call ‘anchoring’ and teaching you how to achieve your best psychological state of mind in seconds. This is used by top athletes, politicians and actors.
I’ll also look at how professional dancers shift their minds eye to give them greater balance, and how you can able this to your skiing when it comes to doing rails!