I'm guessing you practise to get better at your sport.

That means you do the activity you want to improve and closely related activities to it in the environments in which you want to be able to do it.

You aren't going to get very far without doing this.

But what if I told you that in a way practising also makes it harder for you to improve simultaneously?

Before you write me off as a nut-job who is running around with my underpants on my head whilst yodeling, let me explain the seeming madness I just spouted.

When you train or practise, everything is familiar.

What you're doing and your environment is basically the same as it has been many times before. 

There's a heap of research that shows that this familiar sensory input will put you into the familiar state that you usually are in within this environment doing this activity.

That means your brain and body are set up to do what they always do.

You want to get better but everything is set up to make for the same performance.

I think this is one of the reasons that most of us improve at our sports so slowly - 

we're always enacting old habits while trying to make new better ones.

How can we get around this? Am I proposing you give up practising altogether?

No, don't give up practising. Practising will at least keep your skills around the same level and should, with the right measures put in place, provide at least some improvements.

Modifying your practise may be something worth thinking about.

As I stated before, the problem with most regular practise in in trying to do the old and the new simultaneously. The old established patterns will often dwarf the new.

So how about you make your new, improved patterns completely separate from your old ones?

A great way to begin making new separate patterns is to do them in your imagination completely detached from your practise.

In your imagination you can create what you like as unhindered by your habits and environmental demands as possible.

Once you have formed a coherent imagined pattern, you can then begin introducing it into the real world slowly.

Do it away from your sporting environment.

Then take it there and try it in an easy environment.

Once you can do it easily in the easy environment, master it in a slightly more difficult environment.

I was with Leon Taylor, Olympic silver medalist and judge on ITV's Splash, for the past few days.

When helping newbies to learn to dive, people aren't allowed off the 1 metre board metre board before they can comfortably execute the dive off the pool side. They can then go off the 1m and must get competent there before going off the 3m board. Same with the 3m before the 5m board and so on.

If you can't produce a new supporting skill in your imagination and unopposed, the odds of being able to carry in out in competition are pretty slim.

Your imagination is your first sporting arena. Build from there upwards. 

I talk more about this in my free month long Athletic Upgrade email series here.

Trying to build new skills in a highly demanding environment will most likely just push you towards your familiar habits.

Whatever your game is, it is the hardest place to get better.

If you want to go off the 10m board, master it from the pool-side upwards. 


Start in your imagination.

Arton "Leaving the Speedos to Leon" Baleci