perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
- carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.
When was the last time you practice something? Practiced with the intent to improve or master? Really practiced something?
If you participate in any kind of competitive sport, such as dog agility, I’d expect practice would be a regular part of your team’s routine. Great! If you’re currently working on a new skill with your dog, I’d also expect practice would be a daily, maybe multiple time daily, event. Fantastic!
When was the last time you rehearsed though? Rehearsal is specifically practice for later public (or competitive) performance. Now in order to get to the point where rehearsal is possible, practice has to have progressed to a certain point. As the adage goes, “practice makes progress.” You can’t rehearse without first learning the skill and then practicing it to improve.
I’m currently enrolled in an intensive training course learning to be a historic tour guide. It’s a volunteer gig, but the training is quite intense. Day long courses of lectures, written assignments with *gasp* bibliographies (something the majority of us adults in the course haven’t had to do in years!), and every week we are given an assignment to prepare and then present a 3-4 minute speaking exercise to the group, in public, on the sidewalk, somewhere in the middle of downtown Boston.
To be honest, I’m not a history buff, I don’t (correction, didn’t use to, lol) find much thrill in debating the merits of one architectural form vs another, but I do like learning new things, am very much enjoying the course and looking forward to hopefully passing the final exams (see, told you it was intense!) and graduating (yup, there is even a graduation ceremony) as a volunteer tour guide. And it’s reminding me of the merits not only of practice, but of rehearsal.
There is something called the ‘audience effect’ which has been studied by researchers and shows when we over learn a complex task, we actually perform it better when others are watching. Read that again. Mind blowing, right!? Practicing a task isn’t enough, just learning it is definitely not enough, if we want to be able to perform a complex task, whether capturing an audience’s attention while speaking on the awesomeness of Georgian architecture, or laying down a smoking agility run in the middle of a dog show, we have to practice and rehearse to the point the skill is over learned.
Rehearsal for me this week looked something like this: my dogs can tell you all about the Great Molasses Flood of Boston (to the point I’d start rehearsing and Zora would politely come and sit in front of me, my rapt audience of one), my neighbors can also probably tell you about it (I practiced it outside in my yard and on my deck a lot), my spouse can tell you about it (or at least how long it took me to give it, he manned the stop watch helping me hone my timing), anyone who happened to sit next to me on the train can also probably tell you something about it (as I practiced mouthing the words I’d memorized on my train rides to and fro this week). Suffice to say, I practiced and rehearsed a lot this week.
When my practice began, I focused simply on learning my presentation, line by line. Memorizing the 3 plus paragraphs. Then added in my timing. My performance affect. Where I’d pause, where I’d emphasize, where I’d turn my head, what I’d do with my hands. Then I was ready to shift to rehearsal. I practiced in different locations. I pretended I was in front of a group with traffic all around. I made sure to over learn my prepared speaking assignment, so when it was my turn to present, I didn’t have to think about what I was going to say, I knew what I was going to say and how I wanted to say it. I knew it to the point I was unaware of the crowds around me, the traffic, the city sounds as I spoke. And I then had fun telling others the story of the Great Molasses Flood. Because after all of my rehearsal and practice, I knew the story I wanted to tell, I trusted my ability to tell it in 3-4 minutes, before a group, standing on the sidewalk.
When it comes to our dogs, and our training, we want their skills, their performance to be so fluid. We want them to trust their abilities, to trust your abilities. We want them to feel confident, to have fun. So when we want or need our team to really know a skill, to have mastered it, to not have to think about it, we need to practice beyond learning, we need to practice and rehearse to the point of over learning. To the point the skill is fluid and heavy thinking isn’t required.
Whether that’s a skill we want our dog to be able to do in the middle of a competition ring (such as performing their contact behavior), or when out on a walk (like ignoring the dog walking toward them), or when guests arrive at our home (wiggling quietly for petting), if we want to be confident in our dog’s performance, we have to make the commitment to practice, to rehearsal, to over learning.