A week ago I went to NY University to again see a neighbor of mine perform his rare art on stage. Sometimes Michael Moschen juggles balls with extraordinary finesse or humor. He can simultaneously bounce balls continuously with the soles of his shoes. Other times he moves objects in ways so unusual and dexterous that you can hardly believe what you are seeing. He has created new illusions and motions with objects like metal sticks and circles, is inspired by everyday actions like a curved shape rolling down a hill of sand, and invents maneuvers that no one else even imagines, much less is capable of executing. Check out some of his videos, particularly the giant triangle inside the museum (go to 2:00 if you are impatient) in the video above and from 2:30 to 4:12 in this one below:
But it’s his dedication and years of practice to acquire a “skill set” that I want to focus on. This time I was connecting his words and actions to my desire to improve at tennis and squash. You could relate it to any skill that you are working on.
He has one segment of his show involving four billiard-ball-sized crystal spheres that he manipulates in each hand and up to seven of them with both hands. It takes maybe six minutes. But he told me that after he thought of this feat, he practiced for hours every day for two years, before he was ready to go public. You won’t believe what capabilities his hands and fingers have.
In last week’s performance, he said that he normally practices four hours each morning and four hours each afternoon. Every day. I can’t imagine anyone practicing something every day. Or even six days a week. Doesn’t life invade any planned routine? But he insists he is constantly practicing.
The next night a friend said he’d read that for someone to be an outstanding professional athlete, like one of the top 100 tennis players in the world, you have to practice at least four hours every day for 10 years. And of course this assumes you have some natural talent to begin with. Practice alone won’t make you an outstanding player if you are uncoordinated or can’t relax or have poor vision or are too small in some sports or too heavy in others.
Jaime Escalante says you also need “ganas,” which is Spanish for desire. Richard Heckler says you have to practice the motion 300 times to begin to get it, but 3000 times to really integrate it into your brain and muscle memory.
Of course the the most successful pros know how important constant practice is. After winning this year’s Australian Open, Roger Federer admitted,
“Look, it’s no secret I’ve struggled the last, what is it, five matches I’ve played here in the States. It’s disappointing, I think, my performance overall, if I’ve got to analyze right now after the match.
“But I fought as much as I could under the circumstances with my game having issues at the moment. Definitely lack timing. I don’t know where that comes from because I played so nicely in Australia. So it’s disappointing to not be able to back it up.”
“[This loss] only fuels my desire to go back to the practice courts and come back even stronger. I don’t like to lose these type of the matches. I’m looking forward to the clay court season now. It helps to kind of move on to a different surface. Definitely need to practice harder, and that’s what I’ll do.”
So practicing is clearly needed to improve any game or skill. Enjoying those weekly contests without practice in between may be fun or frustrating, but it is unlikely to make you a much better player or performer. Practice, practice, practice. Let’s do it!