Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

Over my career, I have had the great honor to be around and to treat some of the world’s best athletes and artists. While my job is to help them feel their best, it has also been enlightening for me to see what they do on a daily basis that makes them so exceptional at their chosen craft; whether it is basketball, modern dance, or the viola. Last year, one of my clients showed me a video of her granddaughter (who is an Olympic hopeful) working with her soccer coach. In the video, her coach worked her through the myriad of skills necessary to be an exceptional soccer goalie. Drill after drill, time after time, they explored every aspect of the skills necessary to exceed at the goalie position. (Most of these skills I never even thought about!)

Inspired by this video, I asked two questions at every seminar I taught last year. The first question was this: If you wanted to play basketball, what are the essential skills needed to be a great player? Generally, within less than a minute each group could come up with seven to eight skills needed to play basketball well. My next question was this: What are the essential skills needed to be an exceptional massage therapist? Mostly, what followed was silence. Within a minute, two or three skill sets would be acknowledged. How is it that we have a better grasp of basketball skills than our chosen discipline?

In defense of the lack of responses, people often came up with two reasons. First, massage therapy is more art than science. There is no doubt that massage at its best is an art, but is modern dance and playing the violin less of an art? If art cannot be taught, why do we have music and dance majors in college? While there is no doubt that some people are blessed with inherent abilities, even those gifted people will fail in comparison to less gifted people who work exceedingly hard at their agility. 

The second reason the group often stated is that if you want to be good at massage, you need to just do massage, and lots of it. This is a nice idea with one major problem; it really doesn’t lead to exceptional therapists. For example, consider many of the golfers that you know. How many have been golfing for years? Of those, how many have significantly improved their scores? How come they haven’t improved with all that experience? Doesn’t practice make perfect? Practicing your mistakes only makes you better at those mistakes. Perfect practice makes perfect.

What is perfect practice? What skills do we need to focus on to improve our execution of exceptional massage therapy? A very important part of practice is not repetition, it is reflection. Practice without reflection is merely mindless repetition and mindless repetition does not produce exceptional artists. It just dulls our senses instead of heightening our awareness.

A second important aspect is immediate feedback. If we don’t receive immediate feedback as to the accuracy of our work, how can we improve? Every bowler gets immediate feedback with each roll of the ball down the lane. Massage therapists rarely get any feedback that is useful or corrective. Clients say nice things to our face, but rarely do we get constructive feedback that helps us be better.

I am excited to explore these skills with you at Colloquium 2016 in Champaign, IL June 3-5. We will learn much, laugh much, and each of us will walk away with a greater understanding of the specific skills needed to be great at this wonderful field. See you there! Let the games begin. . .