What Gymnastics Taught Me About Acquiring and Mastering Skills

This is a three part series on what gymnastics taught me about acquiring and mastering skills, overcoming fear and delivering clutch performances.

In 1996, Men’s Health published an article where they used some ridiculous mathematical formula using variables such as fitness, skill, pain, brains, etc to figure out the toughest sport in the world. And gymnastics came up number one. Here’s what they said:

Male gymnasts may wear tights, but they score perfect 10’s for fitness and athletic skills, and near-perfect marks for injury potential, mental toughness and difficult conditions. Let’s see you spin in circles on the high bar, release, do a few flips and grab the bar again. Extra toughness points were awarded for the guy who survived a full-speed, chest-first plunge into the horse and for the Japanese Olympic medalist who dismounted from the rings with a broken leg.

I started doing gymnastics when I was six years old and trained for over 16 years. At age 11 I started competing and placing in national competitions at the junior and later the senior levels. The highest I ever placed in a national senior men’s competition was 15th – I was never Olympic material, but I trained with many who were. Previously, I wrote about how I blew out my knee and came back to win a national championship – this post is specifically about what gymnastics has taught me about acquiring and mastering skills.

Gymnastics is the perfect sport to teach these lessons because it’s one of the most demanding activities that you can do. Gymnasts have to master a large number of complex skills that require high levels of technique, strength and guts – and I think that with the intelligent application of these lessons, you’ll be able to learn skills in a variety of areas faster and more effectively.

Ok, ’nuff said. Onto the lessons!

Acquiring and Mastering Skills

Deliberate practice.

I hope this is so obvious to you that you roll your eyes. But seriously – the only real way to get better at something is to do it over and over again. There is no substitute.

However, what Malcom Gladwell said is right, the key is “deliberate practice“. This means being intently focused on every attempt and thinking carefully about how you can improve your performance on each turn. But in addition to practice, consider these other lessons: Continue reading…