Unlearning a Skill

Person jumping rope

I wasn’t the most athletic of kids growing up. This never stopped me from fun physical activities. A few years ago, I decided to learn how to do a double-under. The double-under is a jump rope technique in which for each jump, the rope goes under your feet and over year head twice. It’s not the most complex thing in the world, but it’s also not that easy. If you don’t believe me, give it a try, go ahead, grab a jump rope, I’ll wait.

Now that we’ve established a basic sense of trust, I’d like to dive into my story.

The double-under does not require a higher jump than the single under, only a faster rope spin.

For nearly a year, I tried to learn how to do double-under. I tried every trick imaginable. People told me it was about speed, rhythm, or power. I tried different cables: thick, thin, heavy, and ultralight. I watched tutorial videos on Youtube and practiced at home and the gym to no avail. My failure wasn’t a result of poor conditioning. It wasn’t a result of a lack of desire or determination. It wasn’t even fear of failure or pain. While unskillfully and violently spinning a rubber cable around my head, I gathered more welts than I could count. The pain wasn’t enough to stop me from trying. It didn’t matter. I was not making progress.

I am not sure why I was so fixated on achieving proficiency in this skill, but I was. I would, from time to time, take several days’ break from the training session. I hoped that the skill would sink in while I slept; it never did. Hard work, determination, commitment, and a fearless attitude were not enough to accomplish my goal. This was when things got interesting.

A friend of mine told me about this local double-under clinic to help me unlearn how to jump rope incorrectly. It had never occurred to me there was anything wrong with the way I jumped rope (traditional, single under jump). I initially told him I wasn’t interested in unlearning anything. I needed someone to teach me how to do a double-under. A few weeks later, I relented and signed up to attend the clinic. This was a single day event hosted in a nearby gym. About 40 people or so showed up. I had doubts but decided to give it a go. The very first thing the instructor told us was that we should expect to leave worse than we walked in. He told us that most people who attended hoping to leave proficient at double-under walked away, unable to do many traditional (single under) consecutive jumps.

An entire hour went by before we even touched the rope. We spend most of the time learning body position. Laying down on the ground and concentrating on the muscles we activate when jumping. We spend the next hour or so learning how to jump without a rope. Followed by 2 hours of learning the traditional jump, as well as hand and arm placement. They did leave a little bit of time in the end for people to attempt to do the double-under. Very few people were successful. At this point, I was tired and ready to go home. To say I left defeated was an understatement. Consoled only by the fact that I wasn’t alone, I made my way back. Sure, I learned a ton of body position, rope-holding, and “laying on the ground technique,” but I left Double Unders-less, with arms full of welts.

The funny thing about the mind is that sometimes it simply won’t give up. I was still determined. The very next morning, I tried again. Lo and behold, my first attempt felt solid. I was able to get a couple of Double Unders strung together. They weren’t pretty, but they did happen. The more I tried, the more consecutive Double Unders I was able to string together. I was ecstatic. This is when it hit me. I had successfully unlearned the bad habits of flawed jumping. I had parted with the preconceived notions of how a Double Under should come about. This left room to learn a new skill. A clean slate in which I had better technique and better timing cues. Shortly thereafter, and with a bit of successful practice, I was able to string together 50–100 successful Double Unders consistently and comfortably.

I had successfully unlearned the bad habits of flawed jumping. I had parted with the preconceived notions of how a Double Under should come about. This left room to learn a new skill.

I will never forget this experience. Whenever I feel stuck trying to improve a skill or practice, I think back to this day. Realizing that sometimes, all you gotta do is a bit of unlearning

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