Senior Ski Lessons – Purposeful Practice: by Derek Tate

For our poor and snow-deprived friends in the southern hemisphere, it is hard to imagine skiing whilst floating about a pool in 99 degree heat.…it isn’t that hard.


But, as every year before, I start wondering what that first run of the season will be like. It’s like that first tee shot in the spring. It might go down the middle of the fairway or it might well fly into the woods, ricochet off a gopher and roll into the men’s water closet. No doubt, some practice sessions will be required.


winter golf
I wonder where this one is going?

Here is an article from Derek Tate of the Irish Snowsports Instructors Assoc. on how to make your practice sessions more productive. Last winter I put up a series of articles on a few things I do to be more productive.

Your Skiing Sucks?

I know many of senior skiers prefer to teach themselves. Even if you do take lessons, are not with your coach every day. Most days, YOU are your own coach. Having the skills to structure your own learning sessions is absolutely essential to effortless, effective…FUN!

Horse Training Tips for D-I-Y Senior Ski Lessons

I did have to make a few small edits to Derek’s article to make it work on smart phone screen formats. The full article and many others are available on Derek’s website.

About the author, Derek Tate holds a postgraduate diploma in Sports Coaching and has completed the first year of the MSc Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP). He holds the BASI International Ski Teacher Diploma and the IASI Alpine Level 4 Euro Ski Pro. He is a former trainer of ski instructors for the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) and current Head of Education for the Irish Association of Snowsports Instructors (IASI). He lives near Chamonix, in France where he is director of British Alpine Ski Schools (BASS) in Chamonix and Megeve.

The man knows what he is talking about. Here’s Derek…

Purposeful Practice

Statements such as ‘correct practice makes perfect’ and ‘practice makes permanent’ are commonly used in relation to improving skills and there is no doubt that without sufficient practice you cannot expect to develop your skills to a high level let alone achieve mastery.

But practice needs to be more sophisticated than simple repetition. It needs to be purposeful and if possible deliberate.

In this lesson I will look at what purposeful and deliberate practice are and how you can ensure that the time you spend developing your skiing skills is time well spent. I will also look at what ‘mastery’ is and how you can remain motivated to achieve such high skill levels.
What is purposeful practice? Anders Ericsson (2016) differentiates purposeful practice from ‘naive practice’ in that the latter is where you simply do something repeatedly expecting that the repetition alone will improve your performance.

Purposeful practice, on the other hand, is thoughtful, structured and focused.

There are several key aspects to purposeful practice;

Well defined specific goals, focus on the task in hand, ongoing and immediate feedback and getting outside of one’s comfort zone . Goal setting is vital in so many areas of life and the acronyms SMART and SMARTER (Lockerbie & Tate, 2012) are well established pathways to both setting and achieving your goals. Your goals need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, broken down into chunks of time, create enthusiasm and have some kind of benefit or reward.

Focusing on the task in hand was covered in detail in the first lesson titled ‘Focus Your Attention’ (Tate, 2017) and by developing this skill you can ensure full engagement on skills that you are practicing.

Without feedback there is no way of measuring your progress or knowing how you are doing. Essentially, feedback can come from an extrinsic source, such as a teacher or watching video playback, or an intrinsic source i.e. from you, as you are doing the task. The latter is very important especially as the skill becomes more reflexive and ultimately is more likely to lead to optimal experience (flow).

Getting outside of one’s comfort zone “ is perhaps the most important part of purposeful practice” (Ericsson & Pool, 2016 p.17). It is too easy to stick with what is familiar and comfortable but in order to improve you need to challenge yourself beyond what you can already do.

There is a clear link here with the ‘challenge skills balance’ aspect of flow (Jackson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1999). What is important is that the challenge is just enough to stretch your performance rather than push beyond your limits.
Which areas of your performance do you need to practice most?

Can you allocate sufficient time to this practice?

Will you practice with others or alone?
What makes practice deliberate rather than just purposeful?

Deliberate practice includes all the components of purposeful practice plus the following; guidance from a teacher or coach, rigorous formal training methods, a well developed field with experts who have achieved mastery and effective mental representations

Guidance from a teacher or coach can not only help you to learn what and how to practice but also helps to ensure you learn the correct fundamental movement patterns from early on, reducing the need to unlearn bad habits.

For this reason finding a good teacher is important. One of the suggested defining outcomes of deliberate practice is, that because it demands rigorous formal training methods, it is not always fun! You are often required to work outside of your comfort zone and at “near maximal effort” (Ericsson & Pool, 2016 p.99).
July, 2017 by Optimal Snowsports & Parallel Dreams Coaching 2

“The right sort of practice carried out over a sufficient period of time leads to improvement. Nothing else.” (Ericsson & Pool, 2016)

Deliberate practice also requires a well developed field with experts who have achieved mastery. A sport like Alpine skiing clearly has such a field with experts who perform to an exceptional level across a number of disciplines.

Finally, deliberate practice needs effective and sophisticated mental representations that are developed over time to correspond to external reality. In skiing this takes the form of mental imagery and forming these mental pictures comes from a combination of knowledge, understanding, seeing and feeling.

Higher level performers often use mental imagery as an integral part of their practice.

What is Mastery and where does talent fit into the equation?

It has been widely publicized that to reach mastery in any domain takes around 10,000 hours of quality practice (ideally deliberate practice). The actual number of hours required is difficult to nail down but suffice to say “nobody develops extraordinary abilities without putting in tremendous amounts of practice” (Ericsson & Pool, 2016 p.96).

Mastery can be defined as comprehensive knowledge and/or skill in a particular domain.

For us, in skiing, this translates to ‘expert performance’. The are many examples of expert performers but one that springs to mind is the American slalom specialist, Mikaela Shiffrin who also epitomises the importance of deliberate practice. See 7 Keys to Drill Mastery

The nature vs nurture debate often comes up when discussing ‘talent’. The best description that I have found on talent is by Scott Barry Kaufman who says, “Instead of treating talent as an ‘innate ability’, with all the knowledge and skills fully present at birth, I think talent is more accurately defined as a predisposition and passion to master the rules of a domain (2013, p. 247).

So, the good news is that no matter where you start you can get better with purposeful practice.

How do you maintain motivation?

It’s been established that to become an expert performer requires a great deal of quality practice, but how do you maintain motivation? Once again goal setting is all important here.

If you follow the SMARTER process then you are more likely to maintain interest and it is interest that shapes your motivation. Understanding your learning style will also have a positive impact on how you structure your practice and even better if you can build learning flexibility where you move through the learning cycle using all nine ways of learning (see Peterson & Kolb, 2017 for more information).

Developing ‘Grit’ can benefit your ability to keep practicing and pursuing your goals. The components of grit are passion and perseverance over the long term despite set backs and failure (Kaufman & Duckworth, 2015).

Ultimately falling in love with the activity will fuel your motivation and help give you grit. Remember: Learn it, Love it, Live it.


Kolb Learning Style Inventory 4.0 to find out more. http://

TRY THIS Use videos of skilful skiers to develop more sophisticated mental representations of expert performance. A great place for this is

Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak, Secrets from the New Science of Expertise.

London: The Bodley Head. Jackson, S. A., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1999). Flow in Sports, The keys to optimal experiences and performances.

Human Kinetics. Kaufman, S. B. (2013). Ungifted, Intelligence Redefined.

New York: Basic Books. Kaufman, S. B., & Duckworth, A. L. (2015). World-class expertise: a developmental model.

Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Lockerbie, A., & Tate, D. (2012). Ski Instructors Handbook, Teaching Tools & Techniques.

Edinburgh: Parallel Dreams Publishing. Peterson, K., & Kolb, D. A. (2017). How You Learn Is How You Live.

San Francisco: BerrettKoehler. Tate, D. (2017, June). Lesson 1 – Focus Your Attention. Optimal Snowsports.

Web links

British Alpine Ski School Chamonix

Kolb’s Nine Ways of Learning Learn it, Love it, Live it

Ski Coaching & Mountain Life

Ski Instructional Videos

About the author Derek Tate holds a postgraduate diploma in Sports Coaching and has completed the first year of the MSc Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP). He holds the BASI International Ski Teacher Diploma and the IASI Alpine Level 4 Euro Ski Pro. He is a former trainer of ski instructors for the British Association of Snowsport Instructors (BASI) and current Head of Education for the Irish Association of Snowsports Instructors (IASI). He lives near Chamonix, in France where he is director of British Alpine Ski Schools (BASS) in Chamonix and Megeve.

Want to improve your performance this winter and learn how to practice more purposefully? Then book a lesson with Derek at BASS. To find out more go to lessons2

All photographs © Parallel Dreams.
July, 2017 by Optimal Snowsports &


El Hombre de Esqui! Senior Ski Lessons – International

Hey Senior Skier Network fans! I want to introduce you to Europe’s best selling author of Spanish language ski books, Carlos G. Castillo.

I want to share with you a Senior Skiers Network exclusive preview of his new book  – “Bailar – Esquiar – Fluir” (Dance-Ski-Flow). The excerpt is in the original language and I have included a machine translation to English as well. There is a translation button at the top of the right hand column of the blog page.

I like the way he describes skiing as entering a “state of fluency” 🙂

Movements are like words. The more patterns of movement you know the more fully and completely you can express yourself on the snow. The more you know -The more you will FLOW!

Señores y señoras de atención!

Demos la bienvenida a Carlos a la Senior Skiers’ Network!

Carlos Castillo

With four ski books published since 2003, Carlos is the best selling author of Spanish language alpine skiing manuals in the world.

He has thirty years’ experience as a ski instructor and coach. Born in Spain in 1966, Carlos has worked in the instructional profession in Spain, Austria, the USA, and Argentina.

When he isn’t busy cranking out books, Carlos works for the Vocational Training Institutes of Ski-Technicians in Spain, collaborating with many other ski schools and federations related to winter sports.

He is also an active blogger and works with the leading Spanish snow sports website,  a channel with more than seventy million page views per year.

Here are his books and links to them.





You can catch up on his blog articles here…

Y ahora, aqui es Carlos…

“Fluir en el esquí y, como ya lleva unos años en “un cajón”, hoy lo saco a que respire un poco. Espero poder meterle mano y terminarlo de una vez, juas, mientras tanto, he aquí un extracto…

Si hay una actividad humana donde sea sencillo fluir, o adivinar que los demás están sumidos en un estado de fluencia, es la danza. Lo bueno de ella, además, es que no hay que dominarla para poder disfrutarla. Ni saber para ver cuando alguien baila bien. Bailar nos puede enseñar a esquiar mejor si nos fijamos en cómo seguimos y nos sumergimos en el ritmo de la música. También puede enseñarnos a practicar el esquí como una experiencia autotélica que, a su vez, nos da pistas sobre otros aprendizajes vitales.

Percibimos la música a través del sentido del oído y, utilizando nuestra capacidad de abstracción espacial y temporal, movemos el cuerpo al compás de ese estímulo sugestivo que sentimos. El ritmo está presente tanto en el esquí como en el baile y, bajo el punto de vista de las cualidades perceptivo-motrices, se entiende con toda la facilidad de su árida explicación: llanamente, el ritmo es la capacidad de predecir y organizar el movimiento para adaptarnos a los estímulos regulares del entorno. Ese foco en algo que, además, me resulta agradable, produce un estado de auto-atención en el que percibimos, a la vez, conectados, nuestro cuerpo y el medio estimulante. Entramos así en un estado de fluencia que nos induce a ensimismarnos aún más en la actividad.

En ese estado “fluyente” del baile, muchos nos conformaremos con un sencillo movimiento rítmico y, otros, se sentirán estimulados a probar un paso nuevo, algún movimiento más complicado dándole su toque personal atlético, artístico o incluso cómico; y lo mismo ocurrirá, de forma individual o compartida, con una o varias parejas. Esa pulsión natural de enriquecer la experiencia, aumentando la dificultad o la complejidad, propicia más oportunidades de diversión pero, también, favorece estados de fluencia aún más frecuentes y profundos, pues el desafío atrayente y accesible induce a esa auto-atención disfrutada, tan cercana a la felicidad mientras se experimenta.

En el esquí, como al bailar, también percibimos el entorno a través de los sentidos, principalmente el del tacto y el del propio movimiento: el sentido cinestésico. Si hacemos como con la música, y prestamos atención a esas sensaciones del tacto bajo los pies, la aceleración, la gravedad… interactuaremos con esa información externa hasta fundirnos con ellas en el entorno. Esos patrones repetidos una y otra vez, lo que sentimos circularmente, nos permitirá predecir, organizar y regular los movimientos con precisión y armonía, haciéndonos esquiar con eficiencia. Así, al igual que llegamos a convertirnos en una extensión humana de la música que escuchamos, si nos centramos en los estímulos sensoriales del esquí podemos confundirnos con el entorno por el que descendemos, como un elemento más en danza con la naturaleza que nos invita a su baile.

Al igual que con la danza, si vamos añadiendo a nuestro esquí ligeras complicaciones, pequeñas mejoras y pequeños desafíos, no sólo enriqueceremos nuestro repertorio de destrezas y la competencia global con la que esquiamos, sino que aumentaremos la frecuencia y la calidad de esos estados de auto-atención perfectos en los que todo parece fluir. Las personas que mejor esquían suelen decir que en su deporte nunca se termina de aprender. Y es verdad. Por eso, en el esquí, ya que siempre tendremos oportunidades de encontrar un desafío un poco mayor y proporcionado a nuestras habilidades, de introducir variaciones según nuestro estilo y de practicar solos o en compañía de otras personas – exactamente igual que con la música – continuamente encontraremos ocasiones de entrar y gozar esos estados de fluencia, de disfrutar mientras nos preparamos para ellos, y de recrear luego con satisfacción, en la memoria, los que hemos experimentado.”

Translated by Bing….

Today I share one of the chapters of a little book that, due to personal circumstances, I have not yet been able to finish. It will be called, I believe, Flow in the ski and, as it has been a few years in “a drawer”, today I take it to breathe a little. I hope I can put a hand in it and finish it once and for all, in the meantime, here is an excerpt …

If there is a human activity where it is easy to flow, or to guess that others are in a state of fluency, it is dance. The good thing about it, besides, is that you do not have to dominate it to enjoy it. Not even know to see when someone dances well. Dancing can teach us to ski better if we look at how we follow and we immerse ourselves in the rhythm of music. It can also teach us to practice skiing as an autotelic experience which, in turn, gives us clues about other vital learning.

We perceive music through the sense of hearing and, using our capacity for spatial and temporal abstraction, move the body to the compass of that suggestive stimulus we feel. Rhythm is present both in skiing and in dance, and from the point of view of perceptive-motor qualities it is understood with all the ease of its arid explanation: flatness, rhythm is the ability to predict and organize movement To adapt to the regular stimuli of the environment. That focus on something that, moreover, pleases me, produces a state of self-care in which we perceive, at the same time, connected, our body and the stimulating environment. We thus enter into a state of flux that induces us to become more deeply involved in activity.

In this “flowing” state of dance, many will settle for a simple rhythmic movement, and others will feel stimulated to try a new step, some more complicated movement giving their personal athletic, artistic or even comical touch; And the same will happen, individually or in a shared way, with one or more partners. This natural drive to enrich the experience, increasing difficulty or complexity, provides more opportunities for fun, but also favors even more frequent and deep states of flux, because the attractive and accessible challenge induces that self-care enjoyed, so close To happiness while experiencing.

In skiing, as in dancing, we also perceive the environment through the senses, especially the touch and the movement itself: the kinesthetic sense. If we do as with music, and pay attention to those sensations of touch underfoot, acceleration, gravity … we will interact with that external information until we merge with them in the environment. Those patterns repeated over and over, what we feel circularly, will allow us to predict, organize and regulate movements with precision and harmony, making us ski with efficiency. Thus, just as we become a human extension of the music we hear, if we focus on the sensory stimuli of skiing we can confuse ourselves with the environment through which we descend, as an element in dance with nature that invites us to your dance.

As with dance, if we add to our skiing slight complications, small improvements and small challenges, we will not only enrich our repertoire of skills and the global competition with which we ski, but increase the frequency and quality of those states. Perfect self- attention in which everything seems to flow. People who ski better often say that in their sport, they never stop learning. And it’s true. That is why in skiing, since we will always have opportunities to find a challenge that is a little bigger and proportioned to our abilities, to introduce variations according to our style and to practice alone or in the company of other people – just like with music – continuously We will find occasions to enter and enjoy these states of fluency…


Gracias, Carlos!