Stone Skipping and Youth Sport: What can it teach us?

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When I was 12 we took a family vacation to New Zealand’s South Island. We flew into Christchurch, picked up a rental car and took off on a road trip to the Queenstown ‘Lakes District’ and back.

If you live in the region, or have been there before, you’ll know that there are lakes and rivers everywhere along the way that are easily accessible to passing travellers.

It was early spring at the time, and the snow was melting off the Alps. This meant that there was plenty of water about,  which made it perfect for stone-skipping.

“Now, for those of you who don’t know, stone-skipping is the childhood pastime of throwing a flat stone across water in such a way that it bounces off the surface – preferably many times over.”

We made many stops throughout our journey, and each time, if there was water nearby, I’d be on the hunt for the thinnest, roundest, most ‘skip-able’ stones I could find. I remember being fascinated by it.

Our trip lasted for two weeks and involved a lot of driving, which provided  plenty of opportunities to skip stones. And so that’s exactly what I did.

Looking back now, I wondered why I chose to spend so much time stone-skipping?

Here’s what I came up with:

It was heaps of fun

The #1 reason kids participate in physical activity and sport is for enjoyment. However, more specifically, the two most important sources of enjoyment are:

  1. Self-Improvement
  2. A competitive environment

My stone-skipping escapades ticked both of these boxes.

AD-Mish-84By putting all of my effort into learning new skills involved in stone-skipping, I improved. In fact, I knew exactly how much I was progressing by counting the number of skips I could achieve – which kept going up. This motivated me to keep coming back for more.

I also have an older brother who was there the whole time, stone-skipping beside me.  Not surprisingly, this made for a very competitive environment. “Who could get the most skips?” Research clearly shows that the opportunity to give your best and play hard at something

Immediate Feedback Enhanced My Performance

Self-improvement requires feedback to let you know how you are progressing and what you need to change in order to get better. In my case, the feedback was instant. A good throw meant lots of skips across the water; whereas a poor throw  inevitably resulted in a great big ‘plop’ on the first bounce.

Throughout my trip, I was constantly in search of how to perform the perfect skip. Interestingly, research shows that there is indeed, a ‘right’ way to skip:

“Spinning the stone in the air helps it fly and reduce air resistance”.

At the time, of course, I was none the wiser, but it shows that technique is important.

I  quickly learnt (by throwing hundreds of stones into the water) that it was better to use light, thin stones whilst reducing the angle of release.

From a learning perspective, it was much more effective  to have  figured these things out for myself than be told how to do it by somebody else (by a coach, for example).

Changing My Practice Environment Improved My Learning

Not one of my practice environments was the same. Every time I stepped up to throw, the ground I was standing on, the water I was throwing into and the weather conditions were different. So I had to adapt.

Variability in my practice environment, although challenging, was ultimately a great thing for my learning. It meant that I had to do things differently. I had to try new things, which, in the beginning, meant I failed  miserably. But with failure came new learning, which gave me the necessary information to change how I was doing things and improve.

Different environments taught me to assess the surroundings and prepare for a better outcome accordingly. A steep riverbank meant that I had to dig my feet into the sandy surface for a lower position when I released my stone. A fast flowing river meant that I had to  throw upstream instead of down.

It also taught me to pick the right stone. Although a light, thin stone was my best option most of the time, it wasn’t always the case.

Stone Skipping and Youth Sport

So what does all of this have to do with youth sport?

To summarise, here are the 3 things I learnt from my stone-skipping experience.

  1. Self-mastery is essential to training motivation
  2. Immediate feedback improves performance
  3. Variability in practice enhances learning

Often our best lessons come from situations that we don’t think much about.

If you have any stone-skipping stories from your youth, I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below.

Be the best you can be,

Craig

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