How To Get Better At It

Rower Me

Practice won’t make perfect (perfection is an illusion) but it sure will make you less crap at something.

A lot of things came easily to me as a child. Spelling, maths, climbing trees. The unfortunate legacy of this is that if something doesn’t come easily, I’m not all that interested in pursuing it. That’s why I’m a Jack of All Trades. I’ll give anything a go but I have a lack of patience in acquiring the requisite skills.

I’ve always held the view that if I’m not good at it the first time, then it’s not a talent I possess so there’s no point in persisting with it.

I don’t expect perfection (well, okay, maybe a bit) but I won’t settle for less than competent. Or at least non-embarrassing.

I like to conveniently overlook the fact that concert pianists, best-selling authors and elite athletes get to where they are by putting in the hours. It’s easier to assume they have some other-worldly gift that makes such success out of reach of we mere mortals.

A Lesson for a Jack of All Trades

About two and a half years ago, I took up rowing. Just for the heck of it. It looked like fun. And it was. Mostly. But, in typical fashion, my enthusiasm waned as my skills did not progress as quickly to the desired level as I thought they should. So, about a month ago, I decided to quit.

Besides, I’d been eyeing off the stand-up paddleboarders on the river.

But as with many an activity I undertake and then think I’m not good enough to continue, there was a friendly community attached to it that made it difficult to give up. I was convinced to give it another go. I paid my membership and explained why it was so late. This then prompted an offer of some coaching which I gladly accepted.

Two sessions back in the single ‘tub’ (wider and heavier than a normal scull) and I was told I was ready to take my sculling test. You are not permitted to train in a racing single scull until you pass a test to show you have the necessary skills in balance and manoeuvring. A racing scull is handy because you can pick it up by yourself. A tub takes two. Independence is impossible. Interdependence is necessary.

By now, in addition to the single, I was rowing in a quad three mornings a week and an eight one morning a week.

I passed the test.

Lesson 1: Doing something more often will make you better at it.

Another Lesson for a Jack of All Trades

On my first outing in a ‘tracer’ (slightly heavier than a racing scull, used for training), I made it about 50 metres up the river before I fell in.

Kind of like this except I didn’t have the excuse of hitting something. I just fell in.

On the upside, I was still in front of the rowing sheds so it was an easy matter of towing the boat over to the landing to get out. Also on the upside, nobody saw me fall in. (The coach hadn’t even made it out of the shed with the bike after helping me launch.)

My coach picked up the boat, tipped the water out, put the boat back on the water and held it while he looked at me expectantly. Right. Dripping wet, a little bit cold and a big bit nervous, I got back into the boat.

Somehow I managed to row the five kilometres up and back without another dousing. And without freezing to death. Hooray for a windless day.

The next morning, with the memory of falling out of the boat rapidly growing to terrifying proportions in my mind, I fronted up to have another go before I could lose my nerve.

I didn’t fall in. I got better at steering. I got better at feeling for the balance of the boat. I got better in my stroke technique. (There’s little margin for error in a skinny little single scull.)

I got better at rowing.

Lesson 2: No, really, doing something more often will make you better at it.

Okay, so maybe all those concert pianists, best-selling authors and elite athletes are on to something.




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