The England rugby team prepared for their match against Ireland last weekend using soapy balls. The newspapers had a field day with what looks like a bit of gimmick but there is a method in this approach. By practicing catching smooth, soapy balls the players were practising a skill that was more difficult than it would be in a competition situation.
By mastering a harder skill the player can then perform on match day using less cognitive load, making them more likely to be able to perform the skill successfully under pressure.
A similar idea has been used by some golf players when they will be competing a course with very narrow fairways. In practice they use a couple of markers to gradually narrow the fairway they are targeting until it is narrower than anything they will encounter in competition. Come the weekend that frighteningly narrow 7th doesn’t look half as bad.
We used to do something similar in Kenya – running fast on rutted dirt tracks developed balance and powerful ankles which made running on roads or a synthetic track feel (and look) easy.
This technique of making part of your practice harder than the ‘weekend’s competition’ can also be applied to other areas of life, especially when we are designing learning in the workplace.
To take one obvious skill that would benefit from this approach. How often do you practice giving a presentation with one slide / only images / in half your allotted 20 minutes etc.?
With a bit of creativity, the sky is the limit. Time to go and experiment.