A couple weeks from now, when Shaun White wins his medals at the Vancouver Olympics, you’ll want to remember this video. Because here we get a vivid picture of what’s really beneath his unworldly skills — and it’s not merely gallons of Red Bull. Rather, it’s White’s highly organized method of high-velocity learning — a deep-practice technique that lets him accomplish, as he calculates here, “a couple years of riding in one day.”
So courtesy of Professor White, here are a few lessons that might apply to the art of learning and teaching fast, fluent, complex actions — like playing a new song, trading stocks, making a sales pitch, or (a bit closer to home for me) coaching Little Leaguers.
- Lesson 1: Start out with the complete move in your head. As White says, it should play like a movie in your mind. Song, sales pitch, soccer trick, whatever — it should be vivid and in HD.
- Lesson 2: Isolate and compress the key elements. The foam pit is vital, because it allows White to isolate on the moves of the trick itself and not worry about the danger. It allows him the ultimate advantage: to operate in the sweet spot on the edge of his ability; fire circuits, make mistakes, fix them, and fire again (and again, and again) in perfect safety. Danger — whether it’s an icy half-pipe or a live audience — is added last.
- Lesson 3: Work in a stepwise manner, a little bit farther each time, zooming in and out between the whole trick and its elements. Watch how White does part of the trick on the wall, then the whole thing into the pit, then goes back to the wall, then puts it all together. This back-and-forth isn’t random. White is systematically isolating the move’s key elements, then linking them like so many Legos into one fluent circuit. All fluidity is made of Legos in disguise.
(Special thanks to Jeff Albert.)