Hey. Welcome to the MTB Practice Lab. I’m your host, Griff Wigley, Mountain Bike Geezer, and this is a show about learning how to get better at practicing mountain biking skills.
In this second episode, I give you some background on what led me to create the show, including a story about my crash while learning to jump and how that played a role.
Here’s a clip from me riding my mountain bike on a windy day at our local skills park in late October 2019. I was going against the wind, practicing a small gap jump, trying to generate enough speed by properly pumping two rollers on the approach.
[noisy excerpt from Sechler Skills Park]
What you heard me saying out loud was my pre-obstacle relaxation/concentration routine that I’m experimenting with. More about it in an upcoming episode but I include it here because it’s an example of what I’ll have in most episodes - one or more short sound clips from my current life related to whatever the topic of the episode is about.
How did I get to the place where I got interested in the idea that learning how to learn, getting better at practicing, was itself a skill?
In the fall of 2017, I stumbled on The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills by Daniel Coyle. He published it in 2012 as a manual/handbook companion to his 2009 bestseller, The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (I’ll provide links in the show notes to those books and any others I mention here.)
I realized at the time that this idea of getting better at learning attracted me decades ago when I first read Tim Gallwey's Inner Game books on tennis, golf, and skiing.
But better yet, in The Little Book of Talent were dozens of tips not only for the inner game but also for the outer game of whatever sport you were learning, some of it based on recent discoveries about the brain. This was an eye-opener for me.
In early 2017 I had started working part-time for Ryan Leech. And I remember being intrigued that Ryan had often referred to himself as a “pro-practicer.” In one of his blog posts, he wrote:
I don’t know where my motivation to learn and practice comes from, and sure, I do have a decent athletic disposition, but really, it just comes down to time spent practicing and the quality of practice during that time.
He put that last phrase in italics, ”... the quality of practice during that time.” I really didn’t think much about what Ryan might have meant by ‘quality of practice.’ But in retrospect, I think I just had a vague notion that it meant doing the prescribed exercises and drills, putting in the reps, and doing it with as much mental focus as I could muster. Not bad, right?
In the spring of 2018, I started diligently taking Ryan Leech’s Jump With Confidence online course. I practiced at our local skills park several times a week, totaling hundreds of attempts over many dozens of hours.
By autumn, I got to where I considered myself a solid beginner, ready to enter the intermediate level. On the one hand, I was happy with that because I was having fun. But it seemed to me that it took way too long to get to that modest level. And I began to wonder how long it would take me to become a solid intermediate-level jumper.
And then one day in October, a year ago, after bragging to one of my local riding buddies, Pat Mitzel, that I hadn’t crashed once during jumps practice all season, I crashed. Hard. Luckily I was completely armored up including a full-face helmet and I walked away with just a sprained wrist.
But I was puzzled. I had successfully jumped the middle of the three beginner-level tabletops 4 or 5 times that day and was feeling quite pleased with my attempts. So I was stunned because I had no clue what happened. I sat there reviewing the video on my phone. My form on approach and takeoff looked reasonably decent, close to my form on the previous attempt.
But it was clear from the video that something went wrong right away, as I immediately stuck my left foot out on takeoff. In other words, I didn't get bucked, I didn't start to drift at the peak of the attempt. I somehow started getting sideways immediately.
Just then a gust of wind blew my gloves and jacket off the picnic table where I was sitting. And then it dawned on me: the wind. I might have gotten hit with a gust of wind just as I was going up the lip of the jump.
The weather bureau had issued a high wind warning for later that afternoon. At the time I arrived at the skills park, the wind was already blowing pretty hard (15-20 mph) mainly from the south. I was happy because that meant I had a tailwind for the jump line.
As I sat there pondering all this, I noticed the wind had shifted more to the west, which would mean I could have gotten hit by a gust on my left side.
But if that were the case, it seems that I would have gotten blown to the right, which would mean I would have stuck out my right leg to try to save it. Could a gust from the left tilt my bike/body to the left?
I liked the theory about the crash being caused by the wind, as I figured it somewhat absolved me from poor execution of the jump. I wasn’t convinced that it was the wind, however. I just didn’t have a better answer yet.
So I posted the video in a couple of mountain biking skills-related online discussion groups and with considerable conversation over a few weeks, I eventually came to a conclusion about what went wrong. I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear that it wasn’t the wind.
I learned that I'd forgotten a key, basic element to the launch technique. How could I have had it wrong for so long? Was it my negligence or my ego? What was the flaw in the way I was practicing all that time? Did I just assume that hundreds of reps without a crash would somehow make me immune?
Winter arrived and the Minnesota cold and unusually heavy snow put an end to any further practice sessions on the tabletops. It was then that my rereading of Daniel Coyle’s The Little Book of Talent got me thinking about what I could do to more effectively practice. So I began acquiring books, listening to podcasts, and watching videos on learning how to learn.
I gradually discovered that my approach to practicing was essentially shallow. One author even used the word ‘naive.’ Ouch right? I started learning about purposeful practice, deliberate practice, deep practice, practice myths, and that there’s new science on how to develop habits more effectively that support the new ways of practicing more effectively.
So that’s when I started seriously considering launching a podcast and got support for the idea from a few of my online colleagues.
In the summer of 2019, I traveled to Denver Colorado to attend an all-day seminar by Trevor Ragan, founder of The Learner Lab, which is all about “unpacking the science of how to get better at getting better.” He’s a very good presenter, he has a very interesting season 1 of a podcast and has a website stuffed with helpful articles and videos. I came away more inspired than ever and now here I am with my own podcast, ready to learn and ready to teach. Not coincidentally, Tip #47 in The Little Book of Talent is -- wait for it -- To Learn It More Deeply, Teach It.
As always, I’m interested in your feedback on this episode. On the show notes page, you’ll see how you can contact me, including how you can send me a recorded audio comment or question. I may include it and respond to it in an upcoming episode.
So that’s it for episode number two. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for episode 3.
Email: [email protected]
Voicemail via phone: dial (507) 301-6243
Voicemail via your computer: My contact page
Discussion: comment below
- The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills by Daniel Coyle
- The Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle
- Tim Gallwey's Inner Game books on tennis, golf, and skiing
- Ryan Leech Connection "pro practicer" blog post
- The Learner Lab
- Related post: I'm learning how to train ugly from The Learner Lab's Trevor Ragan
- Related post: Video of my crash on a beginner-level tabletop jump that got me thinking