Self-dependent practice

Prof. Karl A. Ericcson (Peak) shows in his scientific papers that the difference in mastering a certain skill (music, sports, business) on average, better or masterly lies in the amount of intense self-dependent „deliberate practice“. His papers examine primarily musicians from the berliner philharmonie and their education program. These musicians met their teachers during education about 1-2 times a week and exerciced daily on their own for about 5 hours.

How do you transfer these studies to pole vault and sports in general?

First it depends on what sports you practice. A basketball player scores better, if he practices shots on his own 5 days a week 3 hours each. Therefore he does not need a coach next by.

What about pole vaulting?

In the past my opinion was that if the coach is present 5 times a week, it is better than if he is only 4 times, what is better than only 3 times, and so on. Because pole vault is so complex and every flaw that creeps in is difficult to eliminate later and only with multiple time-effort.

This opinion has not changed but it received an upgrade. Home work and self-dependent training is also possible for pole vaulters and it should be practiced.

I start my explanations talking about the drawbacks of the presence of a coach:

The athlet relies on the coaches advice. This may happen very often. The coach tells me as an athlet, what I have to do, how it should be done and I just follow his instructions. That’s suitable for simple stereotypical movements. Automation of the movement trough the coaches instructions. This works for example learing a sommersault.

But when it comes to complexe motion sequences this principle doesn’t work. Welcome to pole vault. The interplay between run-up speed, a flexible pole, orientation in the air and so on is of such complexity that only by instructions you won’t get along. You can not install several programms into an athletes brain – like you write a code for a roboter – and some sunny day this athlete jumps 5.50m. By the way: The majority of athletes would not follow this program because of anxiety not trusting the process. The human brain is hardwired to make the body survive. The brain does not execute movements a coach instructed, if that movement can be a risk for life (and for an unexperienced brain pole vault is a risk for life).

Every pole vaulter has to walk his path of self-education, has to develop the motion sequences of pole vaulting.

And that’s where self-dependant practice comes into play.

Sometimes the athlet vaults because the coach wants them to vault or because pole vault is scheduled respectively. Sometimes athletes arrive at training tired from a long day at school or they are not motivated because something else in life bothers them. In such cases they jump primarily because pole vaulting is scheduled and because there is a coach expecting. This way of training (learing) is the worst possible.

That’s how I „learnt“ french at school. There is a teacher expecting me to learn something I am not interested to learn at that moment.

What would I do in such case, if no coach would be present? Maybe he wouldn’t vault. And maybe that would be the best choice. Pole vault should mainly be done by intrinsic motivation and only for a fracture by extrinsic motivation (for example audience, teammates pushing).

It’s nothing wrong about it, if the athlet takes a harder pole because the coach motivates to do so or that a teammate motivates to do one more jump. This kind of extrinsic motivation is very important. But at its core the athlete has to show up in training intrinsically motivated.

The link to self-dependent training is now quickly drawn: You advice an athlet, to improve a certain part of his vault, without the coaches observation. For example he should improve his pole plant by jumping with pole into the longjump sand. The athlete is adviced to do 15-20 jumps, take videos and study them himself.

Self-dependent training has the following positiv effects:

  • The athlete takes care of his execution of movements
  • The athlete faces him beeing responsible to solve a task on his own
  • The athlete has to learn to study and adjust himself
  • The athlete cannot shift responsibility to his coach
  • The athlete has to be intrinsically motiveted.

It is important that the task is manageable for this scope of work to be prosperous. It has to be perceptible for the athlete what task he should be working on, this is to say watching himself on videotape he has to be able to distinguish between proper and incorrect execution and he needs advice from his coach, what he has to do to perform correct. Given these parameters, it is nothing to say against self-dependent training. Quite the contrary, self-efficacy and expertise of the athlete increase and you have a nice side-effect to separate the wheat from the chaff, this is to say the intrinsically motivated athletes advance quicker and the less motivated recognize, that if the coach does not push they have no stimulus to exercice and they prefer to do something else than pole vault.

Self-dependent practice has another scope of application: consolidation. Basketball players can exercice their precision by themselves very well. There is no coach needed to tell him, further, shorter, more to the left, more to the right. Gymnasts can exercice a somersault countless times until they can do it „in their sleep.“ No coach needed as the gymnast knows about how to perform the somersault correctly.

That is the playground where we as pole vaulters have backlok. Put up a bar and repeat 20 times like a chinese gynmast. The goal is not to improve during these 20 jumps, but to repeat jumping a certain hight 20 times, for examples 1 foot below your PR. This gets you stability, consistency, and allows you to consolidate a certain skill-level to be able to work on the next higher level.