1. Lessons in learning 2
Understanding learning and how to get the most from your next lesson or winter sport holiday
Is the instruction content sensible (sense-able)? To put it another way, sense enabled. Can it be directly accessed by the senses?
All humans interact with the world we live in via our 5 senses. We:
See it Hear it Feel it Smell it Taste it or it simply will not exist for us.
No surprise really that the language that we use to describe our experience is full of sensory descriptive words. Our use of verbal and body language will tend to reflect our preferences for receiving and processing information. This includes learning how to ski but note not necessarily via the same one all of the time. This leads us nicely to the Learning Styles model known as V.A.K.
V.A.K. This model attributed to Neil Fleming was based on the internal and external modality models of Richard Bandler and Joe Grinder in NLP (Neuro-Linguistic-Programming).
- V=Visual 2. A=Auditory 3. K=Kinaesthetic 4. O=Olfactory 5. G=Gustatory
I am sure that you will already have noticed that the common names for these have already been listed above. Smell and taste are not very useful in skiing generally (although I bet there are times!) and yet one can often heard comments like;
- “That run was sweet”
- “There were a couple of real stinkers in the middle of that run”
That leaves us with the first three; V.A.K.
Let’s look at the benefits and pitfalls if any of these pathways.
The client is likely to observe and copy the instructor’s demonstration of the required movements or actions.
There will be lots of doing– looking, trying and practicing and a sign of a good lesson. You don’t have to stand around talking.
With our vision we can plan our route and avoid obstacles (safety) or create internal images (imagery).
We can use our eyes for accurate and quick visual feedback on the task from the tracks in the snow, one’s own shadow or digital camera (I often have my camera in my pocket for this reason). The use of video or still photos works well for this student for instant qualification of feedback.
Note to remember when looking at still pictures and video for that matter too, unless it’s of yourself, you are only looking at a moment in time. You may have no idea of the snow conditions and other factors that might be essential to understanding the why’s and wherefores’ of what the performer is going through!
This is why even with any skier you can find some pretty awful snaps;
Skiers who are highly sight dependent are at a disadvantage in occasions of poor visibility. You will often hear “I had a terrible day today, I couldn’t see;
- my skis”
- where I was going”
- where the snow ended and the sky started”
- my tracks in the snow”
Being sight dependant can play havoc with your balancing because the feedback from the visual sense is no longer reliable.
Apart from watching your shadow on the snow it is difficult to monitor your performance visually in real time. However many skiers try to do just this and it is easy to spot them looking down at their legs and skis.
Checking for understanding of the task can be difficult for this type of learner if the result is one that cannot be seen, imagined or visualised. Also the visual information can be misinterpreted by the observer.
Fact, BLIND people ski and ski well! So why not learn to use a different feedback route to add to your skill set?
This weather anomaly can happen when it is foggy, cloudy or snowing, so; white sky, white snow and is confusing visually.
Remember disadvantages (cons) can be used as challenges, or create opportunities for improvement (pros) for example; fog is a great chance to try a different approach or sense. During this, to all intents and purposes you are blind (blind is a blanket word for a variety of disability, ranging from complete to partial – tunnel or peripheral vision).
Blind skiers have been heard to describe the experience of standing still and feeling the ground move (as sighted people describe being in a white out). It is also worth noting that a former blind Olympic skier described “having to close his eyes in order to ski steeps or bumps when he first tried sighted skiing”.
The teacher can describe the action and can talk in detail if needed.
Verbally checking by questioning for understanding of the task can be very easy with this student.
Listening to the noises the skis makes (external source, internal feedback) can be a benefit as is positive vocal input from the instructor (external).
The potential effects of one’s own internal dialogue should not be underestimated here. Internal conversations or commentary on performance; can be great feedback or a powerful obstacle to clear headed learning progress and are expanded on in the chapter Dealing with Fear.
Once again the weather and snow conditions along with the effects of speed on the ears cause problems;
- Windy days and icy conditions and the noises the skis make tend to disappear into a big whooooshprrhhhh
- Clear days and soft snow and the noises disappear and get muffled
The main feedback route is being interfered with, even the fact that the instructor might not be able to be heard is a hurdle and shouting doesn’t make for a good learning environment. Sometimes the noises can be confusing i.e. on ice everything sounds scrape-y.
A long winded description that becomes boring to the non audio learner; an Easy way to think of this is to imagine Bart Simpson when a teacher is talking; all he hears is blah, blah, blah. He’s just not interested and his preferred way is not being catered for in that situation (reminds me of me in certain lessons I had at school).
Fact, deafness can often seriously affect one’s balancing abilities. In spite of this DEAF people ski and ski well! So why not learn to use a different feedback route to add to your skill set?
Nearly all the great skiers I have ever met talk of a feeling for the snow, to be more accurate for the ski snow interaction. Developing that feeling is often the last but the most influential factor in higher performance skiing.
Hopefully once learned or acquired the sensations (muscle/motor memory) will not leave you, unless affected by something beyond your control i.e. the weather creating cold feet. You can’t change the weather but you and your feet can be re-warmed by going inside for a hot drink/meal etc (removing or at least improving one of the problems) and then go back out. Note that the visual and audio problems due to the weather may still be there but you now have the sensations in your feet again.
When this-loss of feel- happens to me I feel as though I’m skiing or Telemarking on “auto-pilot”, to the outside observer it might not look any different but to me it is not as pleasurable.
Kinaesthetic can be external even if like the other senses it is interpreted internally and may require an external source for clarification.
Cons: Not necessarily the quickest route for some as it requires time, honesty and effort to produce, test and hone an archive of skiing sensations that form a top quality tool box that help produce consistency and accuracy.
Describing a feeling is and can be very complex to explain.
Internal feedback may require external sources to ensure it is linked to the desired outcomes.
I’ve never come across upright skiers with a lack of feeling in their feet or legs but I’m sure they exist. Para and Quadriplegic skiers will normally be seated in a sit-ski – basically a wheelchair on skis – and use the feelings from wherever they are able to;
- Their backsides, pelvis’ or spines or through their hands or arms via the mini crutch-like poles they have with tiny skis on the end known as outriggers
If this happened to the person through an accident in adulthood, they had to re-learn and use a different feedback route from before and are AWESOME!
On a personal note, I’ve tried a sit-ski albeit with an able body and really enjoyed the experience.
Confucious he say
“I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand”.
A quote generally attributed to Confucious the Chinese philosopher. This is important information for the student and instructor, tell them, they’ll forget, show them, they may remember but let them do it and they’ll understand which may help them remember and be involved in their learning.
This may be interpreted; tell them, SHOW THEM but ultimately LET THEM TRY/EXPERIMENT and OWN IT.
A good example of this is, if you get driven to a location by a friend, you very rarely remember the way back there unless involved in some way, say the map reading! However if you drive, your body can sometimes remember: doing the physical actions (feeling the sensations) along with the thought process and decision making help you remember.
Another is if I forget a chord or chord sequence, I’ve done this loads of times singing live. If I just relax and don’t panic my fingers seem to remember magically by themselves – muscle memory, luck, practice….I don’t know. (See Driving and Musical instruments in Relating to other Sport/Activities).
The important thing here is that none of these methods may be perfect when used exclusively. Perhaps that is why ideally we have them all and if not use a mixture of what we have?
People normally learn or remember using a mixture of these ways or with one more dominant or preferred way. So when I have students in front of me I will try my best to;
- Cover all 3 pathways quickly but with enough detail.
- Find out each person’s preferred way/s and develop some common ground.
- Help them to change and encourage them to use other ways.
- Give them enough time to practice and experiment.