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RHR: Body Awareness and Athletic Mastery, with Tom Gellie


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Athletic performance is about far more than simply developing a skill. In this episode, I talk with Tom Gellie, my personal ski coach, about his unique approach, not only to skiing but to the learning and mastery of physical skills in general. We discuss the principles of body awareness, the importance of practice, and how to achieve athletic mastery in your sport of choice. This episode is important to me, not only because of my personal relationship with Tom, but because of my own lifelong passion for learning, discovery, and the mastery of new skills.  

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Introduction to Tom Gellie and his background
  • How to assess your athletic performance
  • The links between body awareness, kinesthetic intelligence, and athletic success
  • Building body awareness to achieve mastery
  • Practice drills to improve underlying strength and fitness
  • Common mistakes people make when trying to improve their skills in a sport
  • Developing kinesthetic awareness even when it doesn’t come naturally
  • Tom Gellie’s favorite recommended resources

Show notes:

Body Awareness and Athletic Mastery with Tom Gellie


Hey everybody, Chris Kresser here. Welcome to another episode of Revolution Health Radio. This week, we’re going to do something pretty different. It’s not a typical health podcast. I am going to be having a conversation with Tom Gellie who is my ski coach.

He is actually in Australia and we’re going to talk about how I can have a ski coach in Australia as part of the conversation, because I’m not there, as you know. And Tom is a very high level ski instructor, has worked with World Cup athletes and has a unique approach to skiing. But the show is not really about skiing, it’s about learning and mastery in general, and how to achieve that in any sort of physical activity that you are pursuing. It’s a deep interest of mine, a passion of mine. I think, as I talk with Tom about in the show, if I look back on my own life, one of the common, one of the few common threads through almost everything that I’ve done in my life, is this passion for learning and mastery. And so something I’ve thought a lot about. What contributes to learning and mastery, how do we cultivate it, what stands in the way of it and I’m always on the lookout for ways that I can learn faster and more deeply. And right now, that just happens to be, skiing just happens to be the subject of that pursuit. It has varied at different times in my life.

And Tom shares that and has a, like I said, a unique perspective as a coach. And he also really didn’t start downhill skiing until he was 22. He’s 38 now, and he’s skiing at an extremely high level. So he has a little bit, he was on a different path than somebody who, there are many high level skiers out there who started when they were three years old, or two years old and don’t even remember learning. Tom started pretty much from scratch when he was 22. He also is a physical therapist and has one of the most sophisticated levels of body awareness that I’ve ever encountered. And this is something that I pay a lot of attention to, and I know a lot of people who are at a pretty high level in that regard. And Tom has this almost uncanny ability to identify what someone is doing in their body and give them very specific feedback. And I think that came out of his background as a physical therapist, but also just being an adult learner and starting a new sport as an adult and having to develop and cultivate that in order to make it to the level that he’s at.

So I really enjoyed the conversation. We talked about how to develop learning and mastery. What some of the common qualities are that people who have attained a high level in a sport or activity have. What are some of the common mistakes or obstacles that get people stuck, or not making progress? Why understanding biomechanics and having a high level of body awareness is so important for people who want to progress in a sport or activity. And then more specifics about learning and coaching, using some of the modern tools and technologies that we have available to us now, both in skiing and other sports. So I really hope you enjoy the show. It’s a little something different and just in time for a ski season in the northern hemisphere. For those of you that are skiers like me, I hope in particular that you get a lot out of it. So I think that’s it. Let’s dive in.

The Conversation

Chris Kresser: Tom, welcome to the show. Pleasure to have you.

Tom Gellie: Thanks Chris. Yeah, it’s great to be here.

Chris Kresser: So I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. I am a learning geek, like you are Tom. And it’s funny, because we’re having, we’re doing some kind of, it was an exercise at one of our company retreats. And I can’t remember the exact nature of it, or the exact exercise, but it was something about reflecting on your life and looking to see if you can find one thing that was consistent across everything that you’ve ever done in your life. And for me, it was just that I love to learn and I love to get better at things that I do. And it almost doesn’t matter what they are. I mean, it does. There’s certain things I like more than others, but I love to learn and to get better. And I’ve known you for not too long, but for the time that I’ve known you, my guess is that you share that in common and that you’re, that’s my observation of you from what I’ve seen not only with your skiing, but as a coach, and now surfing you’re getting into and everything that you do. So tell me about that. Is that something, do you think about it that way? Is that something that’s important to you?

Tom Gellie: Yes, I do. I do. And I’ve come to realize with everything that the learning part is really driving me. I would say I’m on the, I’m really on the coaching side of things at the moment. That’s a real, I see as a very big challenge, but a really enjoyable challenge. So I mean, what we’re doing, I’m coaching you this winter online, and so the challenges that brings up like, I’m really enjoying that and on that reflection thing, I can actually see myself way back when I was eight years old always try to coach others who weren’t as good as me on [inaudible 02:29] how to hit a table tennis ball. Like my brother, like giving him tips on that sort of stuff. So I think we all have certain attributes that we’re strong with, and we’re sort of given that as when we’re born. And so I just feel like that’s one of them when I look back, not only that they’re really learning and mastering things. But I’ve realized I really enjoy the challenge of trying to help others master things. And yeah, that’s tricky. That’s really tricky.

Chris Kresser: It is. It is I’m sure. But we’ll get into more detail on that. But before we do that, I mean, it’s also clear to me that you, that this is true for you, because you’re, for those that are not familiar with you and your work, you’re a very high level skier, you’ve trained and coached World Cup level skiers from around the world. But you didn’t like, unlike a lot of World Cup skiers, you weren’t kind of like born with skis in your hands, right? You came to skiing a little bit later. And therefore I feel like you learned it and taught yourself how to do it in a way that was different from people that just grew up doing something like skiing.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, that’s right. I actually took up downhill skiing at 22. So I’m 38 now. So as a 22-year-old, I did do cross-country skiing, sort of once a year. So like leather boots and walking around, because my dad was really into the outdoors. And he wouldn’t buy us lift tickets. So we would always do that. Yeah, but yeah, I think it gives a very unique perspective. Because I think the closer you are to like timewise learning something, it’s far easier to help that person also go through the process of learning something new. And I think, I can’t remember where I read this, but like the really proficient athletes often make the worst coaches and everyone I think people know that. But it’s just because they never went through the struggles of finding out, like they just stumbled across oh, that’s what you do. There’s not much cognitive thought process and making the mistakes to get there. And so it’s very difficult for them to relate to other people who don’t find it that easy.

Chris Kresser: Right.

Tom Gellie: So I think that’s kind of lucky in a way is me coaching, skiing, especially alpine skiing. As an adult, I had to go through the mistakes and the frustration, so it’s sort of more in my recent memory to that. So there’s definitely something in that part.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, that makes sense to me. And it also, I’ve continually throughout my life in all kinds of different sports and physical activities had the same experience were the people who were just naturals, natural athletes, and still worked hard. But from before almost that they could talk, they were doing that thing and they never really learned to approach it in the same way. And even in my own experience, like with surfing, I don’t approach surfing the way I approach skiing. Like, I just go out and surf and have fun and love it. And I think a little bit about what I’m doing. But, with skiing, I’m so much more, I probably understand ski technique and what I’m doing skiing way better than what I’m doing surfing or at least could, and could talk about it and explain it even though I’ve only really, like you, I skied like once a year or something when I was growing up. And it wasn’t until I moved to Utah that I really started skiing as frequently as I am now. But having said that [crosstalk 06:34], yeah please.

Assessing Your Own Skills

Tom Gellie: I have this question that just popped in my head, because you’re now this is, you’re coming to the second winter of you pursuing, like skiing is your new.

Chris Kresser: That’s my passion right now, yeah.

Tom Gellie: It’s your passion. Yeah, you’re really trying to get good at it fast. And how would you assess how you’ve gone so far? Do you think your average for when you started in your experience? Do you think you’re above average? Are you judging that on yourself or are other people telling you how you’re doing? Because like I say this podcast is around mastering something. I’m interested to hear your own thoughts on how you feel you’re going given you’ve really taken a deep dive.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, well, the caveat is that I tend to be pretty hard on myself. So and this is something I talk about on the podcast, I don’t think I’m alone in that. Humans have a negativity bias. Daniel Kahneman has written a lot about that. And we tend to be much more focused on what’s not going well and what isn’t working than on what is working. And that can be helpful, I think, in times when you’re learning something, but it also can be a shortcoming. I think it’s also good to have, be able to celebrate wins, and kind of objectively see where improvement has happened.

And I mean, I’m, in a lot of ways, I’m pleased with the progress that I’ve made and I’ve worked really hard. And I appreciate that about myself, and I’m willing to put the time in and approach it with a lot of dedication and commitment. There are certain things I think in my skiing that have improved a lot. And then there are certain patterns that just seem really recalcitrant, and difficult to shift, and those are super frustrating. We were just talking about one of those today, before we got on the podcast, from my most recent ski session. So it’s mixed. I will say that I’m having a blast, I love it, and that’s the most important thing for me that like, I don’t want this to just become an exercise in like frustration and like a feeling of lack or. As soon as it becomes that it’s not fun anymore, and I don’t, and so I’m not in that, I’m not hard on myself in that way. I just, I feel a sense of the potential and like what’s possible, and I feel a tension between that and where things are now and there’s a little bit of frustration there.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, because I guess I’m, I hear you there. I’m thinking of like what, say in a sport, what are the measurables you’ve got? One is your internal feedback, and that often is like, that tends to take over highest priority. You listen to that first and like you said, can sometimes get you down pretty easily but it’s important because it’s pretty honest. But then too is like an external kind of, like a coach or just other people around you telling you like from their perspective, how you’re doing. So and then like something like video. Again, very objective, really helpful. I think you kind of need to really keep checking those three areas as you go through learning something, because I think we get caught up in, especially the first one, the negativity where we just all bias that we don’t like making mistakes. And so I like, I really think that having a coach is important. But then also that coach has to understand that probably the person is a lot of time negative. And so they’ve got to find the small wins, point them out, so you’re seeing a bit of a balance in terms of well, things are going in the right direction in this little area. And so at least you’re aware of yeah, both what’s going well and what’s not going well.

I think a lot of people miss that part. I really do. And I think there’s got to be a continual kind of cycle check, especially when you start getting like really hard on yourself. And I know this from just recent surfing. You know when you’re really frustrated, you’re about to have a breakthrough, because you’re pouring all your efforts and you want to change it. And I thought I wasn’t really getting anywhere, but then I got some video. And it was some things that I’ve been working on, I could start to see. Even though I didn’t feel that it was great drastic change, I saw it, compared it to before, and I went, wow, okay. All those efforts and energy is really paying off. And then things change. And then over the next few weeks, it was more enjoyable practicing. Because I yeah, I’d seen the fruits of my labor.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, yeah, no, I like that framework. Let’s rewind and break that out. Because this is, we’ll end up probably talking more about skiing than anything else, because that’s what I’m interested in right now. That’s what you’re coaching. But this show is really about how to learn and master any sport or physical activity. And so, you said, you asked the question of how do we actually gauge progress, which is really important in the learning process. And one was our own internal feedback or compass. And that, I think it’s worth pointing out that that can be misleading in both directions, right? We can either be too negative on ourselves, or we can also perhaps, have an inflated opinion of our abilities. And it could be, those aren’t mutually exclusive, it could be both, right? And that can, and that’s why relying on internal feedback or subjective, your own internal subjective experience is not sufficient, in terms of learning and mastery. You need to then have some source of external feedback, and one that you mentioned is just other people, maybe peers in your group that you can trust, and that will give you objective feedback. That’s sometimes perilous as well, because people have, some people will give objective and let’s say, constructively critical feedback and other people will just kind of tell you what they think you want to hear.

Tom Gellie: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: So video is interesting in that way, because it doesn’t have any agenda. The video camera just captures what is there, and then you can, each person can maybe use that as their own source of more objective feedback, right? And then they can pass it on to a coach, which is maybe a kind of third element that you mentioned, and then there might be, depending on the sport, there might be objective criteria as well. Like if you’re weightlifting, if you’re a competitive Olympic weightlifter, you can just see that now you’re deadlifting 350 pounds instead of 325 pounds. And so you get some objective feedback that way. So, it seems like all of these are important in the learning process.

Tom Gellie: Yeah. And I think the video one, I think in all sports and just as we move, become more tech focused in life, there’s just so much access to it. The answer really, maybe we’ll stick with that for now, that’s a really important one. Because like, it makes me think of Instagram and all the beautiful people on Instagram. You’ve got to be careful what you’re comparing to. Like, I’ve seen this in skiing a lot, is someone comes along and they maybe get some feedback and they understand, oh, that’s what I need to change. They can see where they’re at. And they’ve been shown like a really good example. And then they get deflated when they’re not really that close to the really good example. But if they compare it to where they were, there is some change.

And so I think when you start using that technology and using video and photo, it’s what you are comparing to is very important. Because I realize that like, that’s so important in learning is you really need, like a, you need a comparison, you really do. Like, where were you, what’s changed now and in what areas? Yeah, because otherwise, it’s very, like, that’s just the way we learn. We compare what we know and if something is brand new, we always like to compare it back to something else we’re familiar with and know about. And so that really advanced skier or that really cut guy in the gym, or girl that you’re comparing to, like, that’s not really fair, because you haven’t been where they are yet. But you’ve been where you were.

Chris Kresser: Right.

Tom Gellie: And so I think you just need to get your brain also to focus in on the bigger picture of everything as well, but also you’re, where you were, because that’s what you’re trying to see a relative change in and compare with.

Grasping the Principles of Learning and Mastery

Chris Kresser: Yeah, I think the other issue related to that is learning is never in my experience, a linear process. And there are also certain principles that apply more at one level than at a different level, and even certain rules or principles that tend to be broken or bent at a higher level that if you try to bend those at a lower level, you’re generally not going to do well, right? So like, you show me a video of a World Cup freeskier dragging their hip on the snow, and I go out and try to do that like just right from the get go, it’s probably not going to end up well. Or maybe they’re doing something that they can do, because they’ve already attained a certain level where they understand the forces involved and are able to kind of modify their technique in a way that that’s possible. But if I’m doing it at a slower speed or in it with a different kind of turn, that’s going to send me totally in the wrong direction. So it’s a lot about being able to kind of assess where you are and then what are the things that are going to be most helpful to you at that stage of learning that you’re at.

Tom Gellie: Yes, yes. And that’s something I’m trying to, I guess, on the coaching side, or if you’re on the coaching side, helping someone see where they need to go. It’s much easier to show a really extreme example, because it’s obvious. But you’re so right, there’s that tricky part where you’ve got to say, well, but you’re not trying to aim for that yet. I’m showing you that so you can see it. If I showed you it in like a really mini increment, you’d be struggling to really compute that there’s much change going on.

Chris Kresser: Right.

Tom Gellie: Yeah. And this is, like I find interesting, as I said, because I’m going through this process, especially online coaching where you’re not exactly there. So video is a big important part. It’s things like that, that yeah, is it really useful for me to hear what you’re saying about me showing you a very good skier, are you trying to here action it and then having some troubles or getting yourself into trouble.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Tom Gellie: Yeah.

How Body Awareness Translates to Athletic Success

Chris Kresser: Yeah and it’s, I think that’s present at every level of sport from when you’re just starting out to even a fairly high level recreational athlete versus like a World Cup level athlete. There’s still a really big gap in between those two groups of people. So, I want to kind of go back to extracting some general principles of learning and mastery. You’ve worked with a lot of high level athletes, particularly in skiing, but in other disciplines and also, recreational athletes that are very committed to the process of learning and mastery. And so, what do you, are there any consistent qualities that you see amongst the people that are having success, whether they’re at recreational level or at like a National World Cup type of level?

Tom Gellie: Yes. And I would term it KQ, or so instead of IQ, kinesthetic intelligence. Those people have far greater kinesthetic intelligence and awareness in their body. And if we sort of step back to think of some examples, coaching some people already in the start of this season, what I look for is when these people finally say to me, “Oh, I feel the mistake you pointed out in me. I couldn’t feel it before,” and it’s taken them a few gos to finally feel that mistake, aware that you haven’t fixed it yet. But oh, I feel that now. And then from there, they can start to use their internal compass to gauge improvement on it, because they know what the problem was.

Good athletes, people that learn faster, they’re far more in tune with the subtle feedback through their body. And so that part is generally a lot higher than the average person. And that’s what I would just say in general. A lot of people are missing, if they’re trying to master a sport, and it’s just general body awareness. I feel that’s something I’ve worked on and really has helped whenever I try a new sport, or try to improve one of my sports, that part of me helps me. Those buckets again, the video, the external coach or friend, give me feedback and my own internal feedback. Far more honest, because I’ve worked on understanding, like, what pressure through this part of my foot feels like and how it’s different from two millimeters forward of that, or lateral of that. And that can be really easily worked on.

Chris Kresser: Right. Yeah, I think some people have the idea that that’s just innate and you either have it or you don’t. And just to illustrate this, I mean, it’s maybe obvious but worth pointing out, if you say to me or someone else you’re training, “Chris, you need more hip angulation,” or “you need to drop your hip down further inside of this turn,” or “you need a little bit more, less ankle flexion,” or, “you need a little bit.” If somebody can’t feel what it feels like to flex their hip, or extend their hip or flex their ankle or extend their ankle or counter rotate or whatever, then no amount of guidance or feedback to that end is going to make much of a difference in their skiing, or whatever activity they’re doing, if they can’t actually have the felt sense of what that is like.

And I know, from training with you that you’ve emphasized this a lot. And in fact, I think it was last year and maybe this year in big picture, skiing, your ski academy, which we’ll come back to at the end of the show, you have some body awareness and preparation exercises for people to do to actually allow them to cultivate that awareness. Starting with the feet for skiing. You focus a ton on just really, really fine awareness and detail of various movements in the foot that you want to be feeling in the ski boot, which I think 99 percent of skiers, even skiers at a high level, may not be thinking about or really feeling.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s been a change or maybe an error, I’ve really sort of paid close attention to the feet. Because most sports that’s what’s the first, that’s what’s giving you so much feedback about what’s going on. And I was lucky enough to grow up in like the bush in Australia. So I lived on a, quite a big piece of land that backed onto like government forest. And my brother and I would spend a heap of time, yeah, exploring and a lot of the time barefoot, but just on really different textures and different terrain. And I think people listening if they had that kind of background as well, they probably noticed they have better kinesthetic intelligence in their feet because that stimulus was there when they grew up. And as the world gets more sort of developed and where paths are being, paths are flat, things are all flat, we’re in padded shoes and I think you just can’t help but lose that because you’re just not getting the stimulus. So I really think it’s a really easy step, the first part with the feet is to just try and get different textures under your feet, different walking over different surfaces and not wearing such thick shoes so you can start to feel it. And from there you can also build this, like these awareness exercises I do. Because it’s funny like I put in the video like strength and mobility. But I don’t really think many of the exercises I have in there I would call strength and mobility. Because I think that just comes from you trying to do something, and you’ll do it better the more you feel what your body is doing. So I really am, like catching people on like, they hear, I need to be stronger and it’d be more mobile, but really, I see it as you just need to feel your body more.

Chris Kresser: Right. I agree with that. Strength and mobility are easier to sell than awareness. And that’s just the reality of it. That’s the reality of the situation. But awareness is really what leads to strength and mobility is kind of my interpretation of that. And yeah, like, a lot of those exercises are really about feeling like what is the first metatarsal doing. Like, can you feel the second one distinctly and the third and the fourth, and what is the transverse arch doing and, very like, really like, tiring to do, but not because they’re strenuous. Because that level of attention paid to a part of the body that’s typically not, it’s just taken for granted, is I think, taxing in a good way. You’re really like building new neural pathways and creating connections there, to where I can feel things in my feet now and even, like, if I’m standing in line at the grocery store, or something, I’m sitting there or standing there, like, feeling those different parts of the feet and doing sort of class two lever action in my ankle joint versus the class one.

And yeah, I think that that level of awareness, that’s also been my experience in people. Again, if we take out that like, 5 percent of people who are just, I call them this in the most flattering ways, freaks of nature, you’re just like, achieved the high level with granted a lot of work, but not a lot of thought or cognitive process around it. They just, they worked hard, and it came somewhat naturally to them and they didn’t really have an analysis around it. But the majority of the people who achieve a really high level are people who have a pretty sophisticated level of awareness of their body and how it works, and how to use it to their advantage in whatever their activity is.

Building Body Awareness to Achieve Mastery

Tom Gellie: Yeah, I think it’s, I mean, as an experiment, like people could try, just set your phone up and like walk to, video yourself walking towards and then away. And look closely at say, something easy to pick is like your arm swing. So it’s just around body awareness. A lot of people don’t realize like one arm will probably move a whole lot more than the other. And there might be a reason, there might be an old injury. And when they’re walking, they feel like they’re walking, like with symmetrical arms and all this stuff. If you don’t put your brain’s attention there, it doesn’t think it’s important because it has a billion things it’s got on its mind. And that’s not only just thoughts, but feelings. There’s light, what you’re seeing, what you’re feeling, what you’re hearing. So the brain’s a filter in a way because if it took everything in, you would probably be so stressed because there’s so much stimulus.

The great thing is with awareness, that’s just a practice of putting the spotlight on one area. And that makes me think, like in the pursuit of mastery, you have to be patient on your way there if you’re not this gifted person of like, “Okay, I’m just going to put my spotlight on my left arm for like, a couple of weeks, and just try and play with that.” Realize you’re pretty good at that like phase of “Wow, I didn’t realize it just sat like a dead weight whereas the right is really mobile and nimble and moves in response to everything. Great, at least I feel it now. Now that I can feel that, then also, if I change it, I’ll be aware of it because I’m aware of the old sensation. Then I can feel a new sensation.” And that’s how you gauge, “Oh, great. I got one rep, two reps, three reps have a different feeling.” So that the spotlight idea because there’s so much information, your brain being a filter that chooses where the spotlight is, I think that’s a great kind of like principle to think about when you’ve got like a hundred things say in your skiing you want to work on. Just pick one, bring that up to scratch, move to the next one.

Chris Kresser: I want to come back to that because I think that’s really important, both from a learner perspective and a coach perspective is like how to give and receive feedback or how to choose what you’re going to work on. But when you were talking, something else came up for me in terms of like a universal principle of people who achieve mastery, and I’m curious to get your take on it, which is like ability to, or willingness to be in a place of unfamiliarity, or uncertainty or even awkwardness and to endure that until the breakthrough happens.

Because one of the things I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to do, and I don’t think it’s just me, I’ve seen it in other people and people I’ve coached in different activities in the past is, when we try something new, when we’re trying to change something, a movement pattern, it’s unfamiliar, it doesn’t feel good. And it also could not look good. It can look awkward and strange. And we feel like we’re not in a place of mastery. And it’s all too easy to just like, quickly go back to what is familiar and it might even kind of look better, but we haven’t really then made any progress on that thing that we’re trying to change and it’s holding us back. So I’m curious if you see that too, like in people that you’ve trained that have been successful, that they have this willingness to like, be curious and explore and even tolerate those periods of awkwardness and discomfort in order to get to the next level.

Tom Gellie: So at this stage in my life, I would say you probably hit the number one most important thing in order to achieve mastery is that you have to go through awkwardness and feel different, and that’s where I see so many people, like you said, just turn it back around. They try it, the internal feedback goes, “Well, that was weird and different. Not sure about this. Let’s just go back the old way.”

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Drills: Practice to Improve Underlying Strength and Fitness

Tom Gellie: Yeah. It’s, yeah. As a coach, it’s so frustrating to see because you just want to be like, that’s where, at times if you’re in person with that athlete, with that student, you keep cracking the whip and saying, “No, that’s good.” So there’s that feedback they’re getting. “Okay, no, all right. I’ll trust. I’ll keep trying this awkwardness,” go through the Bambi on ice stage and then come out with a new movement pattern. That’s, that’s, I’ll say that is it. And I gave a talk to the CSIA, the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance, that certifies all the ski instructors in Canada last week, and it was on alternatives. The topic was alternatives. And so it was trying to get people to be okay with taking alternatives because from looking into this, like one, mistakes, we don’t like making mistakes. Usually in life, we just avoid it and Edward de Bono, he’s a really great thinker, I’m a big fan of him. He sort of points out that it’s better to like, don’t think of the word mistake. Like there’s always, there should be a word for a worthwhile venture into something that doesn’t come out the way you perhaps predict it to. But it’s not a wrong thing because at least you went down that road and checked it out. And I think a lot of people are not used to that just in general life. Because it’s risky. Risky. You go like instead of doing your normal nine to five job, what if I really don’t like that and I take an alternative? It’s risky, of course. But, like, if you don’t, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So yeah, that part’s important. And that’s where I think we’re talking about these important fundamentals, like having a coach or a friend, at least who is helping you there to like, say, “No, actually, that doesn’t look too bad. You might feel awkward, but that’s looking more like what you both know you’re aiming to get.”

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Tom Gellie: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, some kind of feedback there because it’s all too easy to fall back into the habitual patterns that we wear, even though we know they’re not optimal, they’re more familiar at least. And we don’t, we might have some experience of some level of mastery or some level of performance or comfort that we don’t want to give up in order to learn that new thing and get to the next level. So yeah, I think that’s a big one. and just extending that further like, I mean, the willingness to do drills for example. Like in skiing.

Tom Gellie: I was going to say.

Chris Kresser: Drills for a lot of people are boring. They’re not as fun as just bombing down the hill or doing whatever else and yet, like I can definitely say that my some of my biggest leaps have come from just doing drills. And I think that’s a whole other conversation, is like how to do drills properly, because I think there’s the flip side of that, where if you’re just doing drills and just hammering the drills over and over, and you don’t have a chance to integrate that into your skiing, then that’s not going to be good, too. But I think a lot fewer people are running the risk of that than not doing any drills or things to train in the first place.

Tom Gellie: Yes, absolutely. And my co-coach in the academy, Sam, he’s a former World Championship skier. So he raced for Australia, and he’s an incredible talent. So he grew up at the snow in Australia. His parents, his dad, was one of the best instructors in Australia, at some point. He’s a beautiful skier as well. So Sam is one of those people sort of given that [crosstalk 36:01].

Chris Kresser: Yeah, born with the skis in his hand.

Tom Gellie: Exactly, yeah. So it’s really interesting seeing him now take on a coaching role and having to kind of like step back and try and think about past experiences where he had noticed a change. And we’re talking about there’s this drill called the swords drill, where you hold your poles upside down, basically. So like a sword in your hand, the poles and then you put them out wide and on the ground. And you’re trying to keep both baskets on the snow the whole time. So you’re essentially leaving like four tracks in the snow, your two ski edges and your two ski baskets dragging the whole time. And he said, like he remembers his coach, who was also a former World Cup athlete, making him do that for two weeks straight at the beginning of the season. And he said [crosstalk 36:49]

Chris Kresser: Nothing else.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, nothing else. And he said he didn’t love it, he didn’t hate it, and he realized he had to do it. And then at the end of the two weeks, he said that was probably one of the biggest breakthroughs like in his technique he’d ever had, because he honed in this exaggerated feeling. Because you always back off a little bit from the drill. You go 100 percent into it, you’ll probably take like 20 percent of it, like a quarter. And so the more you exaggerate it, the more you’ll get probably the amount you need. And so I thought that was like a really good example. Especially for someone like him that got to the top level. Two weeks straight, and he’s probably skiing six days a week. It’s a lot of hours doing it, and it kind of paid off.

Chris Kresser: Right, and then [crosstalk 37:40]

Tom Gellie: Yeah, what? Yeah, I’ll just finish.

Chris Kresser: Yeah go ahead.

Tom Gellie: When I see people, and he’s even, he’s about to put out a video on the site around teaching this girl in Sweden, who she grew up skiing. She’s like her family, loves skiing. They go skiing every year and she’s a pretty proficient skier. But like what you mostly see they’re just kind of like cruising down, not turns and not really dynamic. Anyway, he does this drill with her and he goes, “If you can do this drill right the first time, like you were the first person ever in history to do it right. Because nearly everyone thinks their poles are dragging, but then, next turn in, they’re not doing the exercise.” And of course she doesn’t, she doesn’t do it. And so then he hammers her on that, makes her do it, makes her do it, and holy cow, like within an hour, she’s got a new feeling, brand new sensation that she can now latch onto and go, “Ah, that’s what I need to feel.” Coach yourself. Now Sam’s role is to just be there like a little bit of time when she needs to remind herself of it. But, yeah, the drill is just, I think, because that’s the exaggerated feeling, the drill helps you know if you’re exaggerated enough,

Chris Kresser: Right. Yeah and along with that, we could say just anything, training that is not directly like playing your sport, or even practicing your sport, per se, but training your body or preparing your body to be more effective at the sport. And so you look at like, big wave surfing, for example, and you see, like, Garrett McNamara and Laird Hamilton like running with, carrying boulders under, on the ocean floor and doing like, I know, some of those guys and they train at an insane level. They’re surfing a lot, but they are also spending a ton of time just training and improving their fitness, improving their strength. They’re spending a ton of time studying weather maps. I mean, they don’t need to at this point, but they’ve spent countless hours. They’re all basically meteorologists and have that level of ability to predict a swell and when they go and surf a particular break, they’ll study it for a long time to figure out what are the contours at the bottom? Where’s the wave going to break? Where’s the best place to be in this situation and that situation? I mean, there’s such a level of attention and detail that’s being paid to, and those things are not necessarily like the sexy fun things. But they are what make the difference between people at that level and people who are just at a kind of recreational level?

Tom Gellie: Yep, yeah. And so that just made me think of the years I spent instructing. And as an instructor, you don’t always get, especially at the start, you don’t get to ski with the people who are just ripping around the mountain. You’re spending some time with people who are learning to snowplow. And I know, selfishly, once I got my students a little bit knowing what they were doing, the rest of the lesson time I would be practicing. I’d be pretending I’m helping them. And I still had an eye on them, but I didn’t know I didn’t have to have 100 percent focus on them. I would be doing my own drills. And so a little bit of an apology to everyone that I’ve taught in the past. But I mean, hopefully they got some [crosstalk 41:21]

Chris Kresser: No, I think that’s helpful. That’s mirror neurons and I want to ask you about that next. So yeah, so you’re doing drills.

Tom Gellie: Yeah. And every time because I think, and this is just me reflecting on like what I think I did, compared to say, other instructors or skiers, I just go through the motions. So you’re teaching a friend to snow plow, and you think snow plow is like boring and whatever. And there’s nothing much in it. So you do a pretty [bodgy? 41:51] snow plow, whereas you could still be working on all the things you need to do in your high end skiing. What I realized I was doing all the time was every single second, I got a chance to do that, and in Australia it rains, so it’s not that enjoyable at times, I would just use that time. Use it as like, “Well, I’m not going to have a great time skiing, but I can start getting the hours up towards it.” So I think that comes into the category of obsession really, like a lot of really masterful people are obsessed. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I think it’s just part of, yeah, what you do.

Chris Kresser: My wife would probably agree with that assessment as it relates to me. Yeah, but I actually, I mean, if we spin that in a positive light, I mean obsession, I think depending on who you are, so some people do see that as positive. It can be both, right? But I think what that is also is just adaptability and flexibility. I’m always astounded by, and I get it to a certain extent, because not all of my friends here approach skiing in the same way. But I’ve got friends who, like they won’t even go skiing unless there’s like four or five inches of new snow. And I’m just, I’m happy to get out there no matter what, because all I need is a strip of snow like 20 feet wide, and I can, there’s lots of stuff I can work on and do to improve my skiing. And I love that. I love that I have that level of flexibility with skiing because it makes it way more fun. And I always have said this about surfing in the past. It’s like, I literally in what, I don’t know, 40 years of surfing, have never had a time where I felt worse after surfing than before. Which like, there’s very few things that I can say that about in life and I kind of feel that way about skiing. And I think it’s because I’m less focused on what are the external conditions, which I have no control over in most cases, and I’m more focused on how am I relating to those conditions and like what can I make of them? How can I make these work to my advantage? And that’s something I’ve tried to cultivate. I’m not always successful with it, but when I am I feel like it really helps my learning a lot.

Tom Gellie: Yeah. Do you know, so thinking of Sam again, the guy who made Ski World Championships, I actually was his instructor for his level one. When he stopped racing and he decided to do some instructing, I was his instructor and it was a really low snow start to the season. And we were literally on a patch of like snow like a couple of cars big, doing snow plows and really perfecting stuff. Anyway, he says that that season, because he actually came back and he went to a first world championships a couple years before that season, did this year instructing partway through went, “Actually, you know what? I’ve got a chance I want to ski again in the World Championships, Beaver Creek.”

The year after he went again, the difference and he had a way better result, like way better, best result he’s ever had, felt really good. Difference was he was doing instructing. So he went back and did a whole lot of basics and then two, he started doing some structural integration with me. So I was, a role for a structural integration. So I was working on his body and he said, he just started to, the awareness thing, even in his athlete level, increased again. And he was lifting weights easier, all these things were easier. And he came in and because of that had the best result. And so it was again, doing something different to what he’d done before, like, doing the boring stuff.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, and the willingness to do it.
Tom Gellie: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: So again, this is the quality that we’re talking about where you’ve got a world champion skier who’s snow plowing with you on this tiny strip of snow, when like, a lot of people at that level would be I’m not going out there to do that.

Tom Gellie: Exactly.

Chris Kresser: I’m not going to do that. So that’s really, I think there’s an element of humility there too, of just like being willing to look awkward and start over and do something that’s totally unfamiliar, even within your own sport or your own area of expertise or competence. I think it’s even more challenging to do it within something that you already have a certain level of expertise, right?

Tom Gellie: Yes, yes. Yeah, like your friends even that only ski the six inches of powder day, you maybe go do some drills. If their ego takes over, and they don’t do the drill well they’re like, “Ah, what’s the point in this?” Like, that’s a very easy cop out, instead of like, “Wow, I’m not actually as good at this than I thought I was. This is a foundational skill in my skiing.” Like what else? Are we going to go back and watch the TV or go and sit at the bar? Like, what are you going to do? Whereas I see those people could be like upping their off paced and the skiing they love to do, they get up early for.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Tom Gellie: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: Right, right. They could be practicing things.

Tom Gellie: It’s an ego thing.

Chris Kresser: That would make them thrive and do even better on those days that they are ready to get out there. Yeah.

Tom Gellie: Yeah.

Common Mistakes in Practicing Mastery

Chris Kresser: So we’ve talked a lot about basic principles of learning and mastery, and qualities that people who have attained high levels in various sports have achieved. Let’s look briefly at the flip side of that. What are some of the most common mistakes or areas where people get stuck, that in your mind, prevent them from making progress? And it could just be like the opposite of everything that we just talked about. But if there’s anything else that sticks out that you feel like is a limiting factor for a lot of people you work with, I’m curious to know what that is.

Tom Gellie: Yes, I think it’s the information or how you perceive information around the sport. Because at the end of the day, how I communicated, how someone else communicates how to ski a half turn, for example, I’m trying to do my best to describe what I’m feeling, but it’s never really going to come even close to being accurate to what is going on. And so there’s a lot of information out there around like, say, for instance, get forward when you ski. Like most skiers will have heard that and know that. But then, like there’s the details on like, when, how much for all those sorts of things that don’t get covered. And so people, I think the first mistake is, like really maybe cross-check your information and challenge it a few times, if someone’s telling you something, coach, whatever, you’ve got to ask them, like, “But why?” “But when?” “But how much?” “How do I know when it’s right?” “What would be another way of saying this?” On your quest there because I think a lot of people just take it right, get forward, for example, and then they overdo it and keep thinking because they’re not getting better than it’s just they’re not doing that enough. So I think it’s the information that people are getting. They just need to maybe study it a little bit more and be okay with challenging it. Yeah, it’s always good to do that.

Chris Kresser: I have a version of that. Maybe slightly different, but related, which is just information overload and too much information, too many sources of information or not focused enough information. So I’ve noticed a quality in some of the best coaches that I’ve worked with in all different kinds of disciplines, including medicine, like teachers and medicine mentors, for me, was an ability to quickly assess what’s needed and then provide maybe the one instruction or cue that will address that thing, whatever that thing is. The coaches that are less effective, and when I’m less effective as a student, or as a learner, are the ones that will give you 14 different pieces of feedback in relation to whatever the one thing that you’re doing is, and maybe, like, explain the whole system or. And I experienced this recently at a camp, a clinic that I was at, a ski clinic, early season ski clinic, and it really, I mean, I think there’s, if you understand the brain and how the brain works, there is a limit to how much we can process and think about at any one given time.

And I found that just finding that one cue that is the right one for that moment in time to get to the next step is very powerful. And it kind of goes back to what you were saying with Sam, where he did that drill for two weeks. Like that didn’t mean that he was going to do that forever, it didn’t mean that there wasn’t other important things that he needed to address. It just meant that like that focus, simplicity of that focus, there was a trust there in the coach and a trust in Sam, that that would lead to positive changes even without having to think about those other changes. Just through focusing the attention on that one powerful cue.

Tom Gellie: Yes. So see, yeah, that’s so tricky. Because if we say, if there’s all the ski instructors and coaches in the world in this pool, huge pool, how many of them would be good enough to do that? It would be a really small percentage. And so like, if we’re talking to everyone listening to this podcast, unfortunately, majority of people are going to get exposed to people that don’t perhaps understand that with coaching. And so I think those coaches, it’s not their fault. They’re like, “Oh, no, this is not working. What are the other five things out of say, a thousand I know. Maybe I’ll chuck that at them.” And so I think it’s like pretty human too, because I can remember being an early instructor, I was just throwing [crosstalk 52:53] on you hoping something would stick.

Chris Kresser: We’re talking about mastery. So we get to, we get to have this conversation. And I think it’s worth pointing out that the fundamental prerequisite for that ability to focus on the one most powerful cue is body awareness. And whether you’re talking about the coach, being able to look at someone and quickly see what’s not working, that’s a really refined, sophisticated level of body awareness that you have developed over many, many years and through your work as well as a physical therapist. You’ve got a very, I know, a lot of people in this world, including my wife who’s a Feldenkrais practitioner, and has also a really exquisite body awareness. So it’s something that I’m tuned into, and I recognize when I see it.

So you couldn’t do that. You couldn’t give someone that specific cue if you were not able to see what is not working in their body, right? That would be impossible. And then I as a student, would not be able to act on that cue and feel it, and experience it, and experience what it’s doing to my skiing or if I don’t have that level of body awareness. So I really do think it, going kind of full circle back to what we said was the one single most important quality that all of these high level athletes have, it’s that body awareness. And so we could extend that to coaching too like high level coaches.

Tom Gellie: Yes. A guy named Norm Criets, who’s a legend in the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance, he made a comment at the end of the talk I did saying that he remembers a time when he was with, he was skiing with the head of the Canadian Instructors Association at the time. They’re on the chairlift, they’re doing some training on short turns, and the head guy said to him, “You know, Norman, we really need to like turn our feet really strongly in the short turn.” And Norm, natural athlete, has that kinesthetic IQ, goes, “Do you know what, I disagree. I do not feel that. When I turn well, I feel like my thigh is turning, but my foot is actually turning the other way, because that helps me tilt it on the edge.” So because he has that kinesthetic IQ, he was able to challenge it, find like them to maybe now start a discussion on okay, right, maybe the head guy needs to change the way he describes things. But if you don’t have that, you do what someone tells you to do. If you don’t feel, you’re not feeling what’s going on, you can’t really then challenge that info. So again, that guy could have been, he’s the head of the association, knows a lot. But if the guy had the great intelligence did exactly what he was saying to do, he would have skied worse, or not [inaudible 55:57]. So it helped him get out of the situation that could have led him down a really bad, like, or just the wrong path.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, yeah.

Tom Gellie: Not getting better.

Developing Kinesthetic Awareness

Chris Kresser: Totally agree. And I mean, there’s, we don’t have time to go into all the different methodologies that you can use for developing kinesthetic awareness. There are different ones, different sports, there are some general ones like the Feldenkrais Method, for example, that are kind of universal that can help with that. But, and then within the context of skiing, Tom’s Big Picture Skiing Academy is a phenomenal resource. There’s so much body awareness and prep stuff in there that if you, literally, if you just did that with nothing else, it would be worth it, because that’s going to make such a huge difference in your skiing. But before we finish up by talking about some of the resources you have available, which I want to do because they’re so awesome, I want to briefly talk about how we work together in terms of including all that the technology and the stuff we use. Because I think that’s a really interesting aspect of learning and mastery that’s fairly new. These things were not available to us 20 years ago as teaching tools and as learning tools. And I know that I’m definitely getting a lot out of it. And, of course, there are pitfalls and caveats. But overall, I think it’s pretty amazing. And we’re going to focus this on skiing, but they’re not exclusive, at least a couple of them are not exclusive to skiing. And there’s lots of other similar technologies available in different sports now.

So Tom’s in Australia, I’m in Utah. So that’s the first interesting thing here in terms of the fact that Tom’s my ski coach, we’ve never met in person. Hopefully, that will change this year. But yeah, so I mean, just being able to work remotely with a coach, and I feel I’ve had in person ski lessons and this is not a criticism of the instructors necessarily that I’ve had in person, but I can say that I’ve benefited a 100X more from my work with Tom over the past couple seasons than I have working in person with a ski instructor. And I’ve thought about why that is. And I think there are a few reasons and we can use this as a segue to get into the technology.

One is just how learning happens. I think having a one-day, full day, eight-hour ski lesson, I’m probably going to get in trouble with the ski instructors for saying this, is really not actually, if you were to design the ideal learning situation, that wouldn’t be it. An eight-hour lesson is like a fire hose. You’re going to retain five to 10 percent of that if you’re lucky, and there’s no time to really integrate, unless you spent. I actually think the best lesson would probably be one day just focusing on one thing. Going back to what we were talking about before. But probably a lot of people wouldn’t pay for that. But like the way learning happens, it’s a lot about integration, right? So like I have, I go out skiing, if I can twist my wife’s arm into taking a video of me, I’ll do that. But now fortunately, I have a friend here in Park City who also works with Tom. So we go out and video each other. I send the video to Tom and he uses a tool, an app called OnForm which Tom you can talk a little bit more about from the coach perspective, but he not only can watch the video, but he can mark it up with, draw on it and show me my angles and do all of that.

And then I also have these sensors in my ski boots called Carv, that’s C-a-r-v and it’s a company that Tom has been involved with helping them develop the product. Basically it’s got the same kind of technology that’s in your phone. So it can tell what angle my feet are tipped at, it can tell how much pressure is on the front of my foot, how much pressure is on the back of my foot. And so just through those, through that basic technology, they can give you all kinds of feedback, like, what is your edge angle, how’s your fore/aft balance. Similarly, are you turning your skis, and Tom can also look at that data in conjunction with the video and get a pretty complete picture of what’s happening and how I’m skiing. And then he’ll give me feedback. And then I’ll go away, and I’ll work on that. And then, come back a few days later, maybe a week later and get the next thing. And I feel like that’s so much, just a much more effective way of learning. So talk a little bit about this technology and how it’s up to you as a coach, and what it brings to the equation.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, I think what’s been great is, like you said, the eight hours a day thing, that’s often what people think, like more time is better. But then that takes away, that kind of then puts the, even in the way you think about that, that’s like, “Oh, the more I get from this coach, the better I’ll get.” And so the input is not really coming from the person. And so I feel straightaway, like the best thing about the online style coaching, what we’re doing is we get the one thing, we chat about it, we get a chance to chat back and forth. And it might even be three days later when it’s filtered in, we still chat about it, even change the subject. So there’s a process, a natural process, so you don’t have to go through within the one day. So I think that’s really advantageous.

And yeah, it puts it, the person’s awareness has got to increase because they’re only working with this little bit of info, they’ve been like, can you change this, can you try this. Now they have to go out, you have to go out, Chris, and try and figure it out and go through, you have to go through the struggles to compare and contrast and know you really own it. Like, I think a lot of people might have even had a great lesson with an instructor once and I’m feeling really good. And then they lose it.

Chris Kresser: Right.

Tom Gellie: Because it was almost like given to them and then they have to go back and book that instructor again to get that same feeling, so then you’re reliant on it. So I really am trying to get people to the point because that’s where I feel why I progressed studying skiing later in life, I did a lot of this. I would get something off a really good skier and I’d go away, and I wouldn’t talk to anyone, I would just go and practice. So I’m kind of passing on what I know has worked for me and the online thing seems to force that in a way. Because they can’t go and book me again for three hours. And then like we talked about the comparison thing, like that’s so powerful. You think you’re doing something, you have this video, and you can see if you are or not. You can then also show people, help them with, showing them they’re making progress, even though they see it and overall it looks crap, and they’re like, “Oh I haven’t changed.” But then you put it side by side, look closely, oh, there’s three degrees difference, see? Like, what you’ve done has done something. It’s just only three days of you practicing it. So it really helps me motivate the client and say, “Look, you’re doing well.” Instead of hearing it from them and not being able to prove that they’re improving. Yeah, I think that’s amazing.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, that was a big one for me, too.

Tom Gellie: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: And continues to be. I mean, like the side by, or top bottom or side by side, however it ends up looking in the app, the comparison of when we were, this last summer, I learned to inline skate. And I was doing basically to train for skiing in the offseason. That yes, that is how obsessed I am. I mean, I enjoyed the skating part too to some extent, but it was really I wouldn’t have been doing it if it wasn’t for skiing. I’d never in my life ever had the interest to learn to inline skate until last season. And just seeing the progress that I made throughout the summer, in terms of like angulation, what was happening with my upper body and my feet, it was really really interesting and I definitely feel like some of that has carried over into my skiing, at least starting out this year. Like I started this year, and we can talk about the pros and cons of Carv in a second here, but I started this year like at or above my highest scores of the whole season last year in Carv. And I feel like that was a direct result of doing that skating training all summer. Like, I don’t think there’s any way I would have just started right at or above the level I was at, at the highest point of the season last year. So that kind of feedback is really helpful.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, definitely. And sorry, I also realized I hadn’t talked about the Carv part. I think, to even putting me aside, just this technology in terms of Carv is fantastic. Because the guy who developed it, like invented it, decided this is something he wanted to do. His overall vision is that the learning process is like really uninterrupted. So you can basically be skiing in your headphones you can have your headphones in and it’s like, almost basically telling you, “Did you realize you were back on that turn?” You make another one, “Did you realize you were too far forward?” So then you’ll, you don’t have to stop. So it’s very instant. It’s the coaches, I mean, they called Carv, digital ski coach. So that’s the idea. And I think when that technology, at the moment it’s already great, but when it’s, they’re refining it further and further every year, I think that’s going to be a big game changer. And a lot of people who are willing to go down the road of experimenting, check their ego, try some of the recommended tips and drills and things, they’re all getting better. They’re all [crosstalk 1:06:33].

Chris Kresser: Yeah, I mean, I think my score in the last two years has improved by like 20 or 25 points, I think, on average. And like when I first started skiing with you Tom, when I first started using Carv, so I can’t attribute that all to Carv, because I’ve been working with one of the best ski coaches in the world. But I think the combination is really powerful. And from my perspective, Carv does not replace working with a good coach. It just enhances the whole experience. And I think you could work with Carv alone and make huge progress. And like, if I didn’t have access to you, or a really good ski coach, I would for sure still be using Carv and getting a ton out of it. But and also, I could just work with you and make a ton of progress as well, without Carv. But putting those two together, I think is where it gets really exciting and fun.

And again, I’m not as familiar with what’s available in different sports. I think there are similar things in the golf world now, certainly, like lots of video analysis and simulator stuff happening. But just if you’re listening to this, and you’re not a skier, and you’re interested in the kind of things that we’re talking about, do a little research and see what’s available. You might be surprised. I think there’s a lot of, there’s a renaissance happening now in this world. And there’s a lot of new tools available for learning. I mean, if this had been available when I was growing up skiing, I probably would have approached it differently and maybe had a different experience. But it just makes it so much more fun for me.

Tom Gellie: Yeah. Hey, Chris, maybe before we finish up, I wanted to get, I asked you right at the beginning, I said, “How do you think your progress is going compared to the average person? And what are you basing that on?” And so like, maybe there’s your own thoughts. Maybe there is also what other people are saying, and maybe there’s video. So can you [crosstalk 1:08:43]

Chris Kresser: All right, well I’ve had feedback from people around me, including my wife and friends who have remarked on, they seem impressed with how much I’ve improved and how quickly I’ve improved. With video, like I said before, like I see certainly objectively that a lot of things have improved dramatically. When I look back at video from like two years ago, or two and a half or three years ago, I had kind of that abbreviated 2000, what was it 2020 COVID season where I got maybe two months before the mountain shut down. And then there are certain issues, which very well, Tom, we don’t need to go, that have just been present that whole time and maybe to a lesser degree now than they were initially, but that have been slower to change that I’m aware of and kind of get frustrated by.

It’s really hard for me to kind of like assess my progress versus the average person because I don’t actually, I’m not really in close contact with a lot of average, like, other skiers who [crosstalk 1:10:06]

Tom Gellie: Who had started skiing a few years ago.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, exactly. Like I don’t know, I mean, I did ski like once a year when I was growing up. So it wasn’t totally new to me. But I hadn’t really, I hadn’t skied in 25 years or something. And I had done some snowboarding in the interim. So I feel like I wasn’t starting from complete scratch, like snow plow. I wasn’t starting from like a snow plow or something like that. I don’t know, I would like to think my progress is slightly, was above average, just in terms of my level of commitment and dedication to it and the support that I’ve had. But honestly, it’s hard for me to assess, because I just, I don’t know that many other people who are starting from a similar position from me.

Tom Gellie: Yep, that’s why I think you got to trust that the friends in [crosstalk 1:10:56].

Chris Kresser: Why don’t you tell me, Tom?

Tom Gellie: Well, I think of what you said, like the people around you, because they’re observing you versus what they’re also seeing going on and being skiers. So I would trust that and I think you are accelerating the learning curve from my perspective. I think you are, I feel it’s, I mean, maybe even to your question, what’s the biggest mistake, I feel like there’s like something. At the start of this season, you sort of, it was good too. You went on a camp and you took on some different ideas on how to move in skiing. And I think there’s actually some really good things that have come out of that. But then some of what you’re seeing in your skiing now that maybe you don’t like the look of, I think that’s you just trying to work on some new, like a coach telling you to try turning your body this way. Do this with your hands, do this with your feet. And so I feel that once there’s, some consistency starts happening again, I really feel like end of January, there’s going to be a big difference. Again, a big leap. So yeah, and I think it’s really important to look at it not in terms of that wasn’t a good thing to do. Again, it’s that experimenting, like there’s always good that comes out of going down a road that maybe doesn’t lead to the perfect results you expected to come from. There’s always, yeah, you’re just learning to find out the spectrum of what things can happen in your skiing.

Chris Kresser: Yeah. And maybe this is another quality as well for learning and mastery. It’s something that has served me well that I appreciate about my approach is that I’m not dogmatic. And I don’t get wedded to any particular system or framework, or I will take whatever I can get from anybody, or any system or any framework or any ideology that I think is helpful. And that when I run it through my own filter of testing, with my experience, and my in my life if it resonates as true for me, then I will take that piece from that system, even if the entire rest of the system is junk and doesn’t help me at all, I will take that piece. And I think that’s another important quality for learning and mastery is just having that discernment and not getting too wedded to any one particular system or ideology.

Tom Gellie: Absolutely. Yeah, I totally agree. And I always say this, I think that my biggest breakthroughs in my own skiing have come from doing things that I perceive were wrong.

Chris Kresser: Right.

Tom Gellie: Because someone else before said, “Don’t do that. That’s bad in skiing, that’s bad ski technique.” So I’ve stopped going down that avenue, and then the day I do, wow something, because it’s completely different new sensation. I can internally gauge that and go “Whoa, what was that?” So I think that’s a really, yeah, important, yeah, concept.

Chris Kresser: Yeah and you’ve got to be willing to be wrong. And I know you used that example, recently, where you argued with someone and said, “No, no, you’re wrong about that.” And then you went out and tried it and found out that they were right.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, exactly.

Chris Kresser: That’s the way, if you really want to be like brutally focused on improving, you got to be willing to be wrong in that kind of way. And I think that’s true not just of learning sports, but of anything else. Just be kind of relentlessly honest with yourself and open to being wrong and changing your mind if the circumstances weren’t that.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, so true.

Chris Kresser: All right, Tom, so I’d love for you to talk a little bit about the various resources that you have available. Not everyone who’s listening to this course is a skier, but we certainly will have some skiers in the audience who want to learn more about this approach to skiing. So tell people where they can learn more about your work.

Tom Gellie’s Favorite Training Resources

Tom Gellie: Great. Well, I’m first going to say I’m going to give some, a resource that’s not my own, but one of my mentors, Gary Ward. And he’s from the UK and he developed a system called Anatomy in Motion. If you go to AnatomyinMotion.co.uk, he helped me learn a lot of body awareness exercises and ways of going through that. You can find some awesome resources there online learning for anyone to just start your body awareness journey. And he’s a fantastic coach, mentor, instructor, for just body stuff. So that one I’m saying first, because he’s really helped me get where I’m at. So that’s for everyone. For the skiers, BigPictureSkiing.com is sort of my spin on a lot of that stuff and put into the skiing world. And on that side, I just put the videos up and I try and break them into categories based on all the different elements of skiing. Plus, as you mentioned, indoor dry land, body awareness exercises, that sort of stuff. And it’s growing, as I get feedback from people and say, “Well, that was really good, but I don’t understand this bit.” So it’s a live, organic base that keeps growing. So I really enjoy that part and I think people will enjoy that if they go check it out [crosstalk 1:16:37]

Chris Kresser: One thing I want to say about that, too, is this is also a key point in learning and even just how you structure the learning experience. And you and I have talked about that, Tom, because I have a lot of experience in online education in a different field. And what I love about Big Picture Skiing is like I can go in there, let’s say I want to improve my carving, I can go in there, click on video library, and there’s a whole section on just carving instructional videos. I don’t have to wade through a whole system of like, here’s my system of 45 different points that, my 45-point theory on everything. I don’t want your 45-[point theory and everything, I want to see the drills on carving and the videos on carving for now. Then maybe later, I’ll be interested in your 45-point theory on everything. But I think that’s the best way to do it.

And in that section, there’s videos on upper body arms, bumps and moguls, biomechanics, equipment, and Tom has, we haven’t talked at all about equipment and the role that plays in learning and mastery of any sport, especially skiing, like how you set up your boots, and there’s just, tons of videos on that which is really critical. I think that’s so important because it gives people lots of different entry points, depending on where they are in their learning process.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, I really, that really makes me happy to hear that that’s how you see the learning is done through the site because I enjoy doing the programs and the courses and the multitude of different ones I’ve done in my life. But some of the best learnings have come from like conversations with friends over time. And so I’m almost trying to make the site like jump into Tom’s brain, Tom’s mind as he goes and he puts down what he’s learned in the past. And then also find out what he’s discovering and learning at this moment. And it may seem like I’m jumping, like a bit randomly around, but in my head, and I think everyone realizes this, we don’t actually think very logically or the way we think logical thinking works. It is very fluid and you’re sort of saying that. And so people can go to the site [started carving? 1:18:57] and then I mention something in a video and they go “What is that about?” And you can then just search and go “Oh, now I’m over at biomechanics. Oh, and then now I’m over at body awareness and now I’m in equipment.” So yeah, it’s like telling [crosstalk 1:19:11]

Chris Kresser: It’s very easy to fall down the Big Picture Skiing rabbit hole like YouTube, going, clicking on one thing to another. Yeah, for sure.

Tom Gellie: But, I think it’s just my take on I don’t really like do step one, two. I think there’s times when that’s really important. But yeah, I sort of am a good against that must do because that’s rigid, and then I wouldn’t be able to go into a video later and say, “Hey, guys, I’m really sorry. That video actually, I wasn’t quite correct. Or I’ve got a different take on it, now.” It allows me to change my mind and not be rigid.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, that’s something I appreciate a lot about you Tom and I wouldn’t really commit to working with someone who doesn’t have that mentality and the willingness to admit when they’re wrong and to make progress in their own approach. And frankly, that’s a pretty rare quality unfortunately, in the high level coaching world. Often there’s a lot of ego and a lot of attachment to kind of system that someone’s created and an unwillingness to reconsider. Because then, if you’ve written five books about your system, it’s a lot harder to admit that you were wrong or change your mind, right? So it’s, I like that you do that and that shows up a lot in your work. So you got Big Picture Skiing, which is essentially for those that are familiar with what a membership site is, that’s the general concept. You subscribe, you get access to all this amazing content and webinars and stuff like that. Tom, you also have some kind of programs for people who want to go deeper, including one-on-one private coaching, like we’ve done and then like, are you calling it, is it the academy? Tell us more about those.

Tom Gellie: The academy?

Chris Kresser: Yeah, those programs.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, so diving deeper, you’ve got a private session, which you can do half an hour or an hour Zoom session like this. And I often just go over video, or some people don’t have a video that they know what they want and they show me in the kitchen. Like, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this. And people tell me I should do that. What do you think?” So there’s that option, which is really good. And then the academy is deeper again. We do like a half season or a full season of coaching, and that includes the on form, back and forth video analysis that you mentioned, as well as some, like weekly Zoom classes on a topic. Or it might just be there’s 10 people in there, we look at a couple of people’s videos they’ve sent in, and make sure like they can ask questions and that’s the thing. That’s for the people like you, the obsessed ones, like their season is spent skiing, and they’re really into yeah, taking the deep dive.

So yeah, not for everyone. But yeah, and what’s great about that, for me is I really am learning so much because I’m getting all this information coming in of what’s working and what’s not. It’s like already adapting on the fly. “Whoa, okay. Right, I need to restructure how I say that first and this should or,” yeah, so it’s really, really been good. But those are the two things private coaching and the academy. And the academy is an apply and application thing because it’s just Sam and I. So we can only take on limited people and want to make sure it’s right for you. Yeah, that tends to be for instructors and people like you that just skiing is their jam.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, yeah. And then you got a podcast, right?

Tom Gellie: And I got a pod, that’s right, yeah the Big Picture Skiing podcast. So that’s got some really interesting chats with different people. So that’s worth checking out on Spotify and iTunes podcasts. A YouTube channel.

Chris Kresser: I was going to say, I see you posting YouTube videos.

Tom Gellie: Yep, Big Picture Skiing with Tom Gellie. Yep, so, so that’s got a lot of good stuff and you can sort of see my evolution as a skier. Because it started out not really trying to teach people stuff, it was just hey, here’s me skiing. And then Instagram, Tom Gellie, Big Picture Skiing, Facebook. So you can find me on all the major channels there. And yeah, I think YouTube’s a really good place. The YouTube and the podcast are really good places to start to see like, yeah.

Chris Kresser: I would say that too. Yeah, you can, it’s so helpful I think, just to watch skiing, good skiers skiing and see, like, we didn’t get really into this. But I think one of the other key things with learning and mastery is just, is doing your activity with someone who’s better than you. And the mirror neurons that like, I’ve noticed just skiing behind there’s some really good skiers in Park City, including former World Cup athletes. So occasionally, when I see one of them, I’ll just lurk behind them a little bit, follow them and ski behind them. And it’s like that, almost as much as anything else, can really accelerate my learning. And so yeah, watching YouTube, watching Tom ski on YouTube, watching, I think you post sometimes links to other people on Instagram and Facebook. You shared a video with me earlier today that just blew my mind of, I don’t even know who that guy is. But those turns were just insane. And I feel like I could just watch and study that for a long time and benefit hugely.

Tom Gellie: You know, I can’t, I’m so curious to see my four-year-old son Archie hit the slopes. So we’re going to Canada in less than two weeks for a month, and he’s been skiing. He’s already skied in Aspen and Australia before, but he was much smaller.

Chris Kresser: Yeah, [inaudible 1:25:10] two or three.

Tom Gellie: So now that he’s at the right level, but yeah, but he’s, I’ve noticed him watching me coach online, hearing what I’m saying to other people. And he asked me that the other day. He’s like, “Dad, is this the right ski move?” And we’re on the trampoline practicing lateral jumps.

Chris Kresser: Yeah.

Tom Gellie: I’m very curious to see what happens with him. Because, yeah.

Chris Kresser: He’s going to absorb a lot of this, through osmosis. He’s going to be a ripper.

Tom Gellie: Yeah. Well, yeah. I’m very curious to see. Very, he may hate it. He may, so I’m setting myself up.

Chris Kresser: Unless he decides he just wants to be a surfer instead or something.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So but that’ll help, like, I think also, I’m just thinking like, years down the track. Already, I’ve done a whole lot of like, what I would call self-research with Archie. I made him like, he was always barefoot so much of the time. I would put him in situations, I would challenge his balance that would do all this sort of stuff, expose him. And already I would say he’s a much better athlete than the average kid. And I want to say a lot of it is through, it’s not just genes, it’s exposure to that stuff. And so yeah, 10 years down the line like I’m just wondering, what am I going to be sharing on Big Picture Skiing, because I’ve known oh this really, I know this work and passing on to other people that have kids that want to develop an athlete. And on that final thing, there’s this guy, Christian Tibideaux, he’s Canadian coach, like really high end athlete and himself as well. And he, I think he wrote a book where he wants to write a book on your kids sucks, and it’s your fault. I remember listening to that, when Archie was like, one. I was like, “Well, thank goodness,” because he said at three, like by the time they’re six months old, there are things you probably want to do that he’s finding out. All good athletes, like, have that kind of stimulus before that age. And so it’s like, if you don’t do it in this period, it’s too late. So I found that fascinating.

Chris Kresser: Interesting. Yeah, that’ll be the next podcast learning and mastery for six-month-olds.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, for your newborn.

Chris Kresser: For your newborn, yeah. Yeah. How to set them up for an Olympic career starting at zero years old. Yeah.

Tom Gellie: Yeah.

Chris Kresser: All right. Well, Tom, thanks for coming on the show. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. Everybody. Check out BigPictureSkiing.com, check out Tom on YouTube and Instagram, the Big Picture Skiing podcast. Great, really fascinating conversations if you’re a skier. And yeah, Tom, I’ll probably talk to you tomorrow or something, Tom, but it was a pleasure to have this conversation.

Tom Gellie: Yeah, pleasure too. Thanks very much, Chris.

Chris Kresser: All right, everybody, thanks for listening. Keep sending your questions into ChrisKresser.com/podcastquestion and we’ll talk to you next time.

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