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Practice Practice Practice

It is said that to break into the realm of excellence at any endeavour, you need ten thousand hours of practice and at least ten years. In slalom there are not yet so many participants that you need this number of hours and years in order to become world class, though these figures give us an appreciation of just how much practice gets done by those that excel in their sport.

You must practice enough...

Practicing once a week is fine so long as you aren’t planning to become internationally successful and will not feel hard done by when others learn much faster. It all comes down to practice – no one is born a good skater. I consider that I cannot spin and that I’m terrible at wheeling so I’ll never be very successful at doing 7s (a one-wheel travelling spin), but the reality is that I just don’t enjoy those parts of skating and so practice them very little. I also use my age as an excuse when I see teenagers picking up the wheeling tricks much faster than I do nowadays, but that’s also not fair because younger people will often spend hours and hours absorbed in practice every day while I’m busy writing some book about it instead.

...but don’t over do it

Be wary of practicing for too long at one time and not taking enough rest between practice sessions – your neural pathways need to repair and strengthen just as your muscles do. It is also easy to forget that your body is actually doing physical exercise while you practice. I was once doing up to fifty hours a week alongside a full time desk job for the two months before my first competition back in 2003. Two weeks before the big weekend I had to almost stop skating because my legs had all but given up working and I could hardly even drag myself up a flight of stairs. It hadn’t occured to me that I should be behaving like an athlete by modifying my diet and providing my body with increased amounts of rest and nutrition. I feasted for two weeks on huge amounts of protein and carbs, cut out alcohol and since I couldn’t skate I was also getting to bed earlier and not getting up for pre-work practice sessions. I have never made that mistake again but often come across those that have. It is very easy to forget that we are athletes!

The optimal amount of practice

It is difficult to sustain a good quality of practice if you go over twenty hours a week, so working with three hours a day for six days a week with one rest day is ideal for maximising your learning. I also recommend splitting it up into two sessions per day if you can as little and often is highly effective when developing skills. If you are going to practice this much then you must make sure you eat, sleep and stretch to support your the physical work that your body is doing.