Article 5 – The Artwork of Practice (Part 1)

“Practice doesn’t make you perfect. Only perfect practice does.”

“It’s not just skills and hard work. Everyone at the top level has great techniques. Your mindset is what makes you the winner or the loser. That’s the only difference.”

TG1: Why is it that some athletes progress much faster and succeed vs. the majority?

BS1: After practicing my own sport of Observed Trials for approximately 25,000 hours, and more than a decade of competition and experimentation at the highest level including coaching others, I discovered the process in which you practice will determine your success or failure.

The reason why some Trials riders progress so much faster at skills or results has a lot less to do with HOW HARD they train, but much more to do with HOWthey train.

It’s important to understand that behind every accomplishment, behind every success is a process. The majority of riders often even with hard practice, can’t get half as much done, not even in twice the time, or worse, with no progress at all or very little.

TG2: Understanding that process, you obviously could have more control over the outcome, right?

BS2: Yes, but most riders spend 95% of their energy and attention working on their outer game, their outer execution. Many often think about their movements: how high they should be, how low or how fast, etc, and though it’s true these things are very important, they are all merely just an effect of whatever system of practicing they use in order to progress.

If you practice anything a certain way, whether consciously or unconsciously it’s because you think that’s probably the best way and the way it should be done, but “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

Those without a practice strategy of what works, often ask themselves how to achieve twice as much progress or increase results, and the only plan they can think of is to do twice the amount of work. Coaching those who might have already put in some tremendous amount of hard work and have already seen how difficult it can be to continue to progress once they are past a certain point is challenging. Some riders learn a new routine in just a few days, others might have started a skill much later than you but caught up and even passed you by.

TG3: Is there a universal way to progress and achieve results faster?

BS3: Well, simply doubling your efforts doesn’t seem to be the key to effective progress for most riders or athletes, but having strategies and perfect practice plans does. Many riders feel overwhelmed by all of the next-level skills, drills, or moves they want to learn, but it’s impossible to practice everything, even if you had all the time in the world.

The best way is to prioritize on the things you need to practice, and knowing which tasks should get top priority, then act to get maximum returns.

Progressing consistently in a way that lets you maintain present skills, but also allows to move to the next level continually is a priority, while keeping yourself motivated and maintain focus so you can stay in the best possible state of mind for achieving results. We often put naturally talented athletes on a pedestal, and tell ourselves the story that they were destined to be great, and that they have some mysterious power. But in reality, that’s not the case at all. What often makes sense in the moment is not what usually leads to success.

Len Weed photo

Often, the things you wouldn’t think will work and go unnoticed are the things that will, but almost nobody does.

A process that gives you the best possible results that you’re capable of achieving, and knowing your current practice is the best possible way for achieving those results, regardless if your competition day is a “good” or “bad” one.

TG4: Is there a secret to “Perfect Practice”?

BS4: Not really, but there are multiple processes for improvement and the higher you go, probably the less you know, so probably more discovery than a secret. The reason I know the challenges so well is because of my personal experiences that I needed to deal with throughout the years.

The truth is, I was terrible at practice. And when I say terrible, I’m really talking about a whole other level of dysfunction compared to a rider like 3 x World Champion Yrjö Vesterinen at the time. I know how the struggle feels and tried everything that you could think of to become better at winning.

3 x World Champion – Yrjo Vesterinen – Photo: Giulio Mauri / Fontsere

I’d brute force my way through the slightest of progress, only to become burned out right after, without having much to show for it. Most of the stuff I tried didn’t work at all especially in the mud and the only reason I could think of for my lack of progress not working was “not hard enough”, while practicing many hours a week.

That’s why nobody would guess that the sudden change in my progress came from applying simple rules and processes that made me progress in a faster way than usual, that helped me to compete, share and break world records in the sport at 20 years old.

It’s because certain systems I had and certain mindset I had helped me get past those blocks that allowed me to dominate over my progress. Yet more than anything, it involved having to change how I believed practice works to what actually worked.

What I didn’t understand at the time is that if we’re practicing in a way that is against the fundamental laws of progress, we won’t get any better no matter how hard or how much we practice.

One lesson I learned early on was that practice won’t make you perfect, but “Perfect Practice” will and does pay off.

Winning the 1982 Scottish Six Days on Pipeline – Giulio Mauri / Fontsere

TG5: Should we practice with better riders?

BS5: Absolutely, and some riders are better at what they do than others, and it’s not simply by chance that they got better. I saw first-hand after observing and practicing with some of the best riders in the world, that it wasn’t the strength or physical powers that separated the good from the best.

The big or small differences are always present in the background, and often, one little shift, just one simple change, is all it takes. It was their mostly unconscious approach and mentality that looked dramatically different from the rest.

I found throughout the years, the basic rules of the “successful” are surprisingly uniform and predictable.

For me, one defining characteristic is an athlete who can perform under any circumstance. Most athletes can perform when conditions are perfect, but it is the rare athlete who can perform when conditions are terrible.

TG6: Don’t you find the technical practice gap is growing for many riders?

BS6: Yes, and this gap has spread worldwide to a point of no return for most. It’s really an obstacle point for the sport in my observation. Picture it as a ladder, and the horizontal steps become far apart midway up, for anybody to continue climbing. The top riders like it, because it gives them longer careers, but most riders coming up, cannot climb and surpass the big gap.

That’s why focus on perfect practice matters so much for future champions who want to improve results. Part of the reason top athletes burn-out or get frustrated early is that being famous is not the same as being a champion. Conviction is about being dedicated to becoming the best athlete your mind and body will allow you to be, not the conviction to becoming good enough to be a paid media star on social media.

The tough reality is that 95% of athletes really have no clue what it takes. They want the fame, glory, and money of a World Champion, but they are unwilling to endure the suffering, pain, and heartbreak of that dream. The journey is a long one that requires thousands of hours of boring, focused training, numerous failures, many heartbreaks, and super human resiliency. Today, it requires an army of family, friends, training partners, coaches, businessmen, companies, and fans to make it happen. The truth is that talent and hard work are simply prerequisites for this journey.

Lastly, it takes some luck to become a World Champion. The road to becoming a World Champion is littered with many, many talented and hard-working athletes who never got a lucky break. When you put all of these pieces together, it highlights why World Champions are few in millions.

It’s not all about talent or hard work or competence. It is 100% about what is in a person’s soul. It is the will to win, and the application of that will to find a way to win. It is a level of mental toughness and intelligence that very few people in the world truly understand. There are many gaps to be filled and variables to consider during your perfect practice sessions.

Schreiber Masterclass at Alvie Estate, Scottish Highlands – Photo: Jaxx Lawson

TG7: Many riders wonder how to improve during practice without a minder?

BS7: That’s a good question, considering most clubmen riders practice and compete without a minder, so in many ways, modern trials for the average person, are more like Classic Trials, not only techniques but also in the section difficulty.

Consider that 95% of riders in the sport, will never have a professional minder to practice or compete as World or National Championship riders do, so the vast majority of riders are really practicing and competing traditional clubman Trials their entire career in the sport.

This understanding is what is missed today in the sport. Not only will World or National Championship techniques not be best for the average clubman, but their machines will not be tuned the same for a Championship contender as it would be for the clubman.

Simply meaning, the bike that a top rider competes on, will not perform the best for the average clubman rider. Likewise, the techniques needed to successfully enjoy club level trials to the fullest, is not the same as what is needed to win a National or World Championship. That’s created false illusions for many and one reason traditional classic trials are so popular across Europe. Thinking and understanding what you practice for is so important. The challenge today is we have a lot of clubman level riders on modern bikes who think they can “one day” do BOU tricks and this perception is wrong, distracts from learning the sport and dangerous to be honest. There is a huge difference between learning BOU tricks and traditional trials skills. There is nothing wrong with practicing trick skills, but that’s a different and unique skill set for highly trained riders. You don’t just learn them at a trials school. It’s an act, which includes a variety of acrobatics, gymnastics, aerial acts and a variety of other routines, but not the traditional sport of Trials.

Photo: Solo Moto

The Artwork of Practice (Part 2) will focus on some practical solutions to help riders reach their potential, manage expectations, set goals and practice with purpose by design.