Is solo practice the secret to achieving perfection?
I've recently been reading a book called Quiet by Susan Cain. It's about people like me. One passage in the book really got me thinking about my approach to Laser sailing...
It was about some work done by the research psychologist Anders Ericsson. Dr. Ericsson is interested in the question of how extraordinary achievers get be so great at what they do. He has looked for answers in fields as diverse as chess, tennis and music. As far as I know he hasn't studied Laser sailors (yet) but I think his research may be relevant to us too.
In a famous experiment he compared three groups of expert violinists at an elite music academy. The students were divided into the three groups based on their professors' assessments of their skills. It turned out that all three groups spent about the same time (over 50 hours a week) on music-related activities. But what was different about the best violinists was that they spent way more time practicing in solitude than the others. 24 hours a week compared to 9 hours a week for the least skilled group.
Ericcson and his colleagues found similar results among chess players and even elite athletes in team sports.
So what is so special about solitude?
Ericcson's theory is that it is only when you are alone that you can engage in what he calls Deliberate Practice, when you can work most effectively on the tasks that are just out of your reach, strive to improve your performance, monitor your own progress, and revise your practice sessions accordingly. It is best to practice alone because other people can be distracting and, when alone, you can fully concentrate on working deliberately in a focused way on the areas that you personally need to improve.
So how does this apply to Laser sailing? Well, of course, you need other sailors if you are going to work on things like boat-speed, how to create a gap on a crowded start line, tactics at busy mark roundings and so on. But if you want to improve aspects of boat-handling such as tacks and gybes, and acceleration at the start, and sheeting in and out quickly, and steering the optimum track around a mark, and managing your mainsheet so you don't get it tangled around your feet, and other stuff like that, Ericcson's work suggests that your best approach would be to go off on your own in your Laser, find a few buoys, and just work on each aspect of boat-handling until you have it perfected.
God knows there are plenty of basic boat-handling skills that I need to improve. After feedback from three excellent coaches in Menorca last September, Cabarete in January, and Florida in March, I have a long list of issues to address. Maybe this will be the year that I do some Deliberate Practice on my own and finally fix all those "issues"?
What do you think? Does this make any sense to you?