Delusions of Competence

Aikido throwRecently I was training with a black belt in my Aikido class. Having trained for many years, he appears an expert. His moves appear polished. He easily recognized and replicated the techniques that we were to practice like he had done it hundreds of times before.

Yet I noticed something strange: He couldn’t do it.

He thought he could. And he elegantly went through the motions. But seemingly unbeknown to him, his techniques were ineffective – as pretty as they looked, they would work only if his partner knew to fall at the right time in the right way. They were close, but the angles, timing and rotations were clearly wrong. And, since I didn’t know “the rules”, I just stood there watching as he verbally told me to fall down!

This was very confusing to him… as if everybody else had “played along”. Unfortunately, it being only my sixth session with this school, I didn’t know how to. Perhaps I am missing something and his understanding of the techniques superseded the need for their practical application. But it got me thinking.

Top NFL players play computer simulations to improve their skills. Reading Wired this morning, I was informed that “almost everybody” plays something like Madden NFL, and that not only has this enhanced the strategic thinking skills of players, but parts of the simulation has started creeping into the real game.

Now, I’d guess that this is like getting a tennis player or a golfer to do weight training. Just by playing the game, they might get stronger, but by doing specific strength training, you can build “strengths” in ways that wouldn’t normally happen just by “playing the game”, and these strengths can offer a serious advantage… in this case, by exposing players to a much greater number of realistic situations that reward (or demand) heightened strategic awareness, you build better strategic awareness. It’s effectively Deliberate Practice for a subset of the game…

And it’s important to be able to tell the difference!

You can get away with stuff in Madden’s that you can’t do in the real game. Those are the limits of the game. You can get away with things in training if your partner knows how they “should” behave that can undermine your performance when working with someone who doesn’t share those rules.

It’s great to use simulations and training techniques to accelerate our development. And when we can focus on a neglected component of the activity, we can enjoy some amazing improvements in our performance…but you have to remember to take those skills back to the real world. And there, as the best all know, you don’t just need to get the individual techniques “right”: You need to find a way to put it together and make it work for you.