I think it’s probably time for a Focus article. I’ve decided to split this into a series relating to Mastery. Mastery being the overall goal for ‘Focus’. Now training is generally aimed toward sports, however the ideas I will be presenting in this article will apply to any chosen activity, whether it be a hobby, sport or anything. This post will look at what I’ll describe as the first phase of mastery, beginner. Which for our purposes means little to no experience in the chosen activity.
We have all been ‘beginners’ in something. Sometimes we are beginners every single day. I’d like you to think back to something you were a beginner at. It could be a sport, it could be an art, it could be cooking. Do you remember the first times doing it? It was awkward, you had to really concentrate hard on every move, and quite often people quit after being frustrated and feeling like they’ll never ‘get it’. However, this phase is unavoidable and is important for laying the foundations for the chosen activity. But, by consciously realising this from the start, you can begin your training on a much better mindset.
When you keep in mind that you’re suppose to be bad at first, you can let go of insecurities and develop some patience. With this, you can implement a strategy for mastering the basics. To do this, it’s important to analyse your activity some more and find out what are the key fundamentals. I’ll use futsal as an example. The 4 basics of Futsal are passing, defending, dribbling and shooting. So if I were to reset all my Futsal experience now, I could begin with just these four basics and train them. By practicing just these, outside of the game, I will build the foundation to lead onto the next phase of mastery. For me personally though, I developed everything I know through actually playing. This has been fine because it’s always been fun and I had no idea what ‘practice’ really meant when I started. However I can still use my knowledge now to reinforce the basics.
Now, the actual point of working on the basics is strengthen the neural pathways in your body. I’ve touched on this idea briefly, but I’ll explain in more detail here. I’ll use the wikipedia definition first: ‘A neural pathway, neural tract, or neural face, connects one part of the nervous system with another and usually consists of bundles of elongated, myelin-insulated neurons, known collectively as white matter. Neural pathways serve to connect relatively distant areas of the brain or nervous system, compared to the local communication of grey matter. ‘ Basically put, they are the reason you can move parts of your body.
The importance of them is that by using certain pathways over and over, your body will strengthen them. A simple analogy is walking through a forest to a destination. Over the years you travel to the same destination, slowly you’ll wear in a track through the forest, making it easier and easier to walk there. However, if one day you venture off the track because you saw something interesting, you’ll be leaving your well worn in track and have the difficulty of walking through the dense forest again. But if you continue regularly you will then develop a new track.
I wanted to explain this a little more to describe how you can use it to your advantage when first training. But also how it can work against you. So you start your activity and you suck. That’s okay, find out what the basics are and practice them. Before you start practicing them though, it’s important that you are practicing them correctly. The way those pathways can work against you is that once they have become strong, they are difficult to rewire. Using the above analogy, the forest will take quite some time to grow back over a worn in path. So if you are incorrectly doing something, it can lead to bad habits. This is what I unintentionally did to myself when I juggled my soccer ball in my younger years. I was kicking it incorrectly from the start and when retraining recently I had to consciously rewire myself to kick correctly.
To summarise, when starting out find out the basics of the activity. Next, learn the correct way of doing these. Youtube videos are certainly great for this, however if you know somebody who can show you, learning from someone else in person will always be superior. Then, it’s time to practice. Forget about the actual activity itself, and just practice these basics. After some time, what first felt goofy and awkward, will start to feel natural, just like walking does. At that point, it’ll be time to move into the next phase, which will be revealed in the next post.