by James Streater @maverixsnow
I was riding the other day working on some backside 360’s. One thing I noticed was that I was able to process the trick to such an extent that in the middle of the spin could make a decision whether to keep the spin going and try for a 540 or just chill and keep it a 360.
On reflection if I was pumped full of adrenaline I wouldn’t have the capacity to process much during the trick. I’d just be thinking about surviving. That’s probably why when I chat to clients after they’ve tried a new trick or movement they find it difficult to remember much. Too many inputs flood the brain and make it difficult to isolate the key actions taking place.
After riding a number of years I find that many tricks and snowboard movements becomes more instinctual. They require less and less conscious effort. This would be more commonly referred to as muscle memory.
‘We all use muscle memory techniques in our everyday life. Whether it is riding a bicycle, typing on a keyboard or entering a common password or pin number, we have taught our muscles to carry out these commands without putting much thought into them. It takes a great deal of practice and repetition for a task to be completed on a strictly subconscious level. For professional sports players it may take hundreds of hours of practice and repeated shots for the brain and muscles to perform at a world class level;’ (Morley, 2012).
This related to a discussion with my freerunning coach a few months back. If the muscle memory for a movement is not there he has too much adrenaline flowing and doesn't feel in total control.
I think for extreme sports this is a delicate balance. The initial buzz of trying a new trick and pushing the boundaries is a fundamental aspect of why we snowboard. Life today is very controlled and managed. When you snowboard there is an inherent freedom of expression and an associated adrenaline fuelled risk that takes you out of the norm. That feeling is addictive.
However, if we can reduce the overpowering effect of adrenaline on key movements then we can focus more on refining technique, developing our own style and adapting the movement to more challenging and exciting situations.
How can this help snowboarders?
Understanding at what stage of learning you’re at can help isolate how to develop and improve. If we think about the way people learn movements then we can typically split it into three sections:
1. Cognitive Stage
The cognitive stage begins when the learner is first introduced to the motor task. This is where the early identification and understanding of the skill is to be learned. Individuals focus on how to do the skill rather than actually practising it. This is achieved by watching, thinking, analysing and visualising.
2. Associative Stage
The associative stage is where the practice of the skill begins. The learner may not be able to perform the skill with a high level but they have an understanding of how it is done.
3. Autonomous Stage
The autonomous stage is characterised by executing the skill automatically with no conscious thought. The individual can perform the skill fluently and instinctively.
Think about certain movements or tricks you’ve been trying on your board. It could be your first switch turn or 360, but you could most likely break that process down into part of these three stages.
Although useful I find it a little broad in relation to coaching. From this initial base I’ve developed my own progression levels that I use as part of my online coaching tool, the Maverix Academy. Jumping beyond the Cognitive stage I split the Associative and Autonomous Stages into five.
Snowboard Progression Level
Further Development Required — 1 out if 5 landed
Almost Achieved — 2 out of 5 landed
Achieved Inconsistently — 3 out of 5 landed
Achieved Consistently — 4 out of 5 landed
Achieved — 5 out of 5 landed
With snowboarding its very rare that you can get to a fully autonomous stage of riding, i.e Achieved. I consider someone to have achieved a solid level of skill when they can land or dial a movement 3 out of 5 times.
So how can this help you?
Be aware that acquiring certain new skills will take time. A lot of riders will try something once and then quit if they fall and look a bit stupid. You have to persevere. I often set myself a limit of 3 attempts on something tough. Maybe 6 attempts when I’m refining a previously acquired skill. That way I do not place too much pressure on myself to deliver a brand new skill straight away and I do not get hooked into just working on one thing in the pursuit of perfection, as that never arrives.
To reduce the impact of adrenalin on learning a new trick or movement research how to break that movement down into more manageable chunks. I will often spend ages developing a new skill or perfecting and new trick and then reverse engineer it into smaller progression stages that I can then teach to others.
It works really well as a teaching method and means riders truly develop skills rather than a huck and hope approach.
Working through a series of drills will develop skills slowly in a controlled fashion that’ll boost confidence and solidify muscle memory.
When it comes to drills based learning I often keep the end game to myself and develop a riders skills covertly. The other week I worked through a series of drills towards frontside 180’s onto a pipe. If I’d dropped the goal to the group at the outset many would have put in phycological barriers straight off. But in this instance we built skills and confidence in a controlled way and when it game to trying them onto the pipe the guys knew they had the skills and believed they could do it. Pretty much everybody dialled the trick after a couple of attempts with no slams.
So think about your snowboard goals and if they’re tough break them into more manageable chunks so the adverse effects of adrenalin do not hinder your future progression, and if you’re still struggling head up to your local slope and grab a coach to help unlock that next level of riding.
James Streater is the head coach and owner of Maverix Snow Ltd, providing year round snowboard instruction, online coaching and personal development. He is part of a select group of professionals who hold the worlds highest snowsport qualification ISTD.