In the Olympics of 1908, a diver barely avoided serious injury while attempting a double somersault dive. After the incident the double-somersault was considered too dangerous – and was almost banned from all future Olympics.
Today, the double somersault is an entry-level dive, with 10 years old nailing it in competition. But it’s not like 10 year olds today suddenly have more athletic talent than the Olympic professionals of 1908. So how is this possible? What advantage do 10 year old divers have today that puts them ahead of these Olympic athletes.
Well, the advantage that these 10 year olds have is the same advantage that high-level gamers have over you.. and this advantage is.. how they train.
Young divers today have the advantage of more sophisticated training techniques, allowing them to progress their skills much quicker than those athletes in 1908. Likewise, those players who seem to effortlessly climb the ranks, without ever getting stuck in ELO hell – have better training techniques, or to put it simply – the way they practice allows them to develop their skills more effectively.
But more important to note is that the typical way we develop our skills, and likely the way you’re currently developing your skills – is extremely inefficient. It’s a recipe for hitting a skill ceiling, forcing you to get stuck in a lower rank.
Luckily there is a much better way to go about it. Like the 10 year old divers of today, you can accomplish amazing feats in a short amount of time. You can smash through the skill ceilings that hold others back, and you can achieve mastery much faster than you ever thought possible. And to do this, all you need, is the right technique.
When we’re learning or improving a skill, we tend to follow the same pattern.
At first we decide to learn something new – Perhaps you’re a League of Legends player – and the current meta is really favoring the champion Ezreal. Since you’ve never played Ezreal before, you decide it’s worthwhile to put in some effort and give him a try.
You start by hopping on to YouTube and watching a good Ezreal guide.
After a solid 15 minute guide you have consciously learned the basics – now its time to start up a bot match and apply that new knowledge.
At first it feels fairly mechanical, you have to consciously think about what spells to use when, and you seem to make a lot of mistakes.
But after a few games you start to feel more comfortable. You’re now fairly good at landing his skillshot. And use seem to have a good understanding of how to use his siege capabilities. At this point you feel comfortable enough to play with real people. So you hop into some normal games.
At this point you no longer have to consciously think about when to use hit ultimate, or how to time your skill shot. In fact the more you play, the more it all, flows and feels automatic.
After winning a couple games you feel confident. You no longer have to consciously think about what moves to use, or when to use them. And for the most part you’re satisfied. You are now officially an Ezreal player.
That being said, you realize you’re not perfect. You’re still aware that your early game is a little off. Perhaps you don’t have the best positioning and you can get caught out fairly easily. On top of this, your general mechanics aren’t that great – well, at least not yet.
The main thing is that you hold your own weight in a game so… it’s good enough for now. And all you really have to do, is play Ezreal a bunch of times.. and eventually you’ll have him mastered… Right?
SO in short, we typically go about developing our skills by learning the basics until we can comfortably apply them in an real situation. Then we apply the skill repeatedly and expect that repetition alone will improve our overall performance.
But there’s a fatal flaw in this approach. When we learn the skill enough that we’re comfortable and it becomes automatic, we stop improving. When you hit this point, repeating the skill over and over again really won’t do anything.
Think of it like this. If an amateur pianist took 6 years of lessons, but then played the same songs in the exact same way over and over, for the past 10 years – he is no better at playing the piano now then he was 10 years ago. In fact without actively trying to improve his skills, he’s probably gotten worse.
And if he, without realizing, learned the songs incorrectly, and practiced them over and over, the mistakes will become just as automatic as the rest of his performance.
And this is exactly why people get stuck at a specific rank and can’t seem to ever make progress, because at this point they’re repeating the same thing over and over again, desperately hoping that repetition will have an effect on their overall performance.
In order to keep progressing you simply need a new way to develop your skills.
In his book Peak, Anders Ericsson lays out the characteristics of effective practice, or as he likes to call, “purposeful practice”. And by infusing your practice with these characteristics, you’ll be able to improve much faster and push past the skill barriers that are holding you back.
The first characteristic is a specific goal for your practice: Without a practice goal there is no way to tell if the practice session is a success. So based on your ultimate goal, identify what specific skill you need to improve. Then setup your practice in a way where you can measure your progress with short-term goals for improvement.
The second characteristic is focus. You can’t improve much without giving the practice your full attention. Of course this means getting rid of distractions while you’re practicing. But more importantly it means investing yourself in the practice so that you’re genuinely excited to make progress.
The third characteristic is feedback. In order to improve – You have to know if you’re succeeding or failing. With feedback you can immediately identify when you make a mistake so that you can easily correct course. Not to mention that having immediate feedback is a key for cultivating a state of flow.
The fourth characteristic is challenge or forcing yourself out of your comfort zone: This is perhaps the most important part – you must actively set up the practice so you’re always being pushed out of your comfort zone. And pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – means trying to do something that you couldn’t do before. The reason this is so important because you can’t improve by do something over and over that is already easy for you – doing that is like lifting a 1 pound dumbbell in an attempt to build muscle, it just doesn’t work. When you achieve a certain level of success in your practice immediately create a new challenge for yourself, one that forces you to improve.
And the fifth characteristic is motivation: Maintaining focus and effort during this type of practice requires motivation. When you’re constantly challenging yourself, you need to know why and be able to justify the efforts with a clear end goal. But you also need to enjoy the process. If you put too much pressure on it you’ll make yourself frustrated and want to give up – so have a clear end goal, one that motivates you, but let yourself have fun and enjoy the process of becoming a better player.
By designing your practice sessions around these characteristics you’ll be able to focus your efforts and effectively improve the skills. As a result you’ll be able to climb the ladder much faster. But at this point it’s probably still a little hard for you to picture yourself applying these characteristics. So let’s consider what an effective practice session might actually look like.
Let’s start by setting a larger goal around something that I’m already motivated by – for example I want to climb from Gold to Platinum rank in Overwatch. In order to boost my skill rating I know that I need to improve my aim. Since my go-to hero is Mccree I need to get more accurate with each individual shot.
SO at this point I’m already motivated – I have a larger goal and I have a general idea of what I need to improve. Now I just need to setup my practice in a way that offers direct feedback, let’s me set practice goals, and let’s me challenge myself in a way that’s enjoyable and engages my focused.
To do this I’ll use aim training maps in the CS:GO workshop. It’s unusual but awesome recommendation, one that I first heard from mr. eddythechump over at Your Overwatch
Using one of these maps automatically provides direct feedback on whether I hit or miss a target. Based on this feedback I can set my practice goals: Say I need to hit 30 out of 30 targets, and do this 3 rounds in a row.
And to stay challenged, when I achieve this goal I’ll make the targets smaller and repeat – this challenges me to accomplish a short-term goal and then ups the ante every time I get comfortable.
And after just 20 minutes of this type of practice you’ll already notice an improvement. And of course, by practicing like this for long periods of time, on a daily basis – it will yield massive results.
When it comes to fundamental, everyday skills – the typical way of developing our skill is okay. It’s not like you need to always practice your bed making ability, or develop advanced spatial awareness so you can load the dishwasher faster.
But for things that really matter to you, I urge you to adopt a far more effective technique.
So if you really want to improve your gaming skills, if you want to climb the ranks faster, and break through every skill ceiling, then apply the principles of this video to your daily practice.
The result of doing this will not only be a little less rank-related frustration, or a higher placement on the skill ladder, but by taking your practice more seriously, setting higher goals for yourself and applying these techniques, you will be able to unlock your maximum potential.