We will take a roundabout way toward the main big idea of this post, so I would like to lay the key concepts out here at the start.
- You need challenge within your training regimen in order to continually stimulate adaptation.
- Using the "skill set" within the training discipline in question as a source of remixable elements to produce an endless set of possible challenges is a way to never run out of ways to challenge yourself.
- Real-time-flow games demand an endless set of remixed base skill set element combinations and, when those base skills are somewhat mastered, your training should feature that same type of remixed skill combination.
- So, we should seek "more complexity" (as defined below) more often in training at the higher levels.
Notice that I didn't mention hockey in the discourse above. This is a hockey-focused blog and ultimately, this whole concept will be applied to hockey, but for this post, we will mostly be looking at the more complexity concept as a general phenomenon for human learning of a skill set.
We (almost) all are seeking improvement in a movement skill
Is there anyone who doesn't have some movement skill that they would like to be better at? It’s a diverse world, so the answer is probably yes. Regardless, the key idea is that it is a common thing and most people generally either are in the process of working on some skill or another or at least can remember a time when they dedicated themselves to some form of skill improvement.
Some training environments are more beautiful than others. Also, golf represents one of the most common movement skill sets pursued by adults.
And, given that experience, we know that the more complicated the skill, the longer it takes to get good at it. When I say more complicated here what I mean is that more body parts are involved, a long sequence of movements is involved, or most likely, both. Basically, a more complicated movement is a harder movement to learn.
On the other hand, another thing that we know from experience is that when we learn an easy skill, we can get good fast. The typical experience in these cases is that there is only so good that one can get on easy skills. You get good fast and then you start to approach the human limits for that sort of task at which point your improvement is stunted. How good can one really get at tieing one's shoes?
Approaching human limits isn't the only reason why improvement plateaus for easy skills. Another reason is that the body doesn't invest in adaptation responses if it doesn't get a signal that adaptation is needed. Give it a skill that doesn't stress the movement control system, and it will not be placed into a condition where it will benefit by investing in changing itself to perform better in similar circumstances in the future. So, our adaptation mechanism doesn't bother. Easy skills, once a certain proficiency is achieved, don't stimulate improvement.
How can we keep adaptation going when a skill is acquired?
Often times, one doesn't have to think too hard about this because we are usually working within a skill set. The question isn't, "Have I learned some skill?" Instead, its, "Have I improved my skill set?" When that is the case, a plateau on one skill just means that we need to work on another skill in the skill set. I think most people intuitively get that without having to think about it, but the set of basic skills in any discipline is finite and it doesn't take too long for hard charging participants to get good at all the basic skills.
This brings us to the subject of the post. Can we leverage "more complexity" as a way to push skill-set learning as fast as possible? When you are talking about a skill set, it is often the case that skills are "combinable" in some way. By, "combinable", I mean that they may be able to be performed at the same time or that they may be performable in a sequence. If they are in a sequence, that can always be made easy by eliminating time pressure. However, if skills are packed into a shorter time, the challenge can be arbitrarily hard depending on how short that time is.
Some readers may be thinking, "Aren't you just talking about multitasking challenges?" at this point. The answer is yes. The distinction here is we are discussing multitasking from a complexity of challenge standpoint and considering how that can be useful in ensuring a high level of challenge during training as people build their skill sets.
Tournaments are measuring systems for identifying the best team or individual over some time frame. Luck is involved, so they are not perfect, but that is part of the fun. The tournament set-up above may be a bit more complicated than needed to identify the best team. But, the key idea is that a tournament is a symbol for how participants are pitted against one another to find out who has acquired the most talent.
Who can become best?
In many areas of human life, we are placed in a competitive environment where the nature of a competition is set in advance so people can work on their skills and seek to be more capable than others. Sports are a great example, but they are not alone as many other examples can be found in life. In all these cases, getting good isn't enough. If you are pushing to be better than most others, you have to seek every opportunity to get good (within certain relevant constraints). Getting good at each individual skill in a skill set may not be enough.
In other words, learning each skill in isolation will only get you so far. And in our sports with legions of passionate participants, that is not very far at all. To get further you need to push your skill set to thrive against others that are pushing theirs and you need to find opportunities to create an adaptation response.
When working on isolated skills, you can pull from the "grab bag" which is the skill set for that discipline. But this grab bag is even more valuable when seeking to push further. This is because you can find skills in the bag that can be combined into complex multitasking challenges. As we have laid out above, these can be made arbitrarily challenging (by cramming a long sequence into a short time) and, as such, can serve as an endless source of adaptation stimulus.
What challenge level does the game demand?
A final thought to consider in the understanding of complexity of skill can be approached via the following question: When competing in real-time against opponents that are also training to thrive under complex skill challenges, what demand is placed on you as far as the complexity of the challenge? To answer this, we should consider that real-time competition in any game or sport involves making things as difficult for the opponent(s) as we can (while they do the same).
If putting the opponent up against challenges that are beyond the range where they can thrive is a good way to win, then being good at a game or sport means that one can demand more from the opponent than they are capable of. In other words, due to the interaction between highly trained opponents in real-time, the game creates stressful complex challenges. The very thing we are seeking in training (if we seek more complex challenges in training) is what the game demands from us once we reach relevant levels!
Next time we will apply this to hockey and consider how the More Complexity concept can be implemented in hockey practices!