What can coin magicians learn from figure skating?

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Matthew Syed is one of those annoyingly talented people. He’s had two vastly different careers and has been wildly successful in both - showoff.


First, he took a childhood game far too seriously and became the UK's number-one table tennis player for 10 years. Then, he put down the paddle and wrote six bestselling books - obviously.

His first and most famous book is called Bounce. Like a weird episode of Scooby-Doo,* it rips the mask off the idea of ‘talent’ and shows it for what it is: thousands of hours of purposeful practice. I know, disappointing.

According to Syed, ‘purposeful practice is about striving for what is just out of reach and not quite making it.’

It seems simple, but it makes a big difference in learning. This is demonstrated by research done into figure skating - that sport where people strap blades to their feet and do their best impression of a spinning top. The researchers found that what sets elite skaters apart isn’t genetics or being vaguely related to a dreidel, it’s that they regularly attempt jumps outside their current capabilities.

Syed shows that this approach is common in many top performers and says, ‘world-class performance comes by striving for a target just out of reach, but with a vivid awareness of how the gap might be breached. Over time, through constant repetition and deep concentration, the gap will disappear, only for a new target to be created, just out of reach once again.’

This idea changed the way I practice magic. I used to fear complicated coin tricks, but now I run towards them and give them a belly scratch. This has improved my ‘chops’ to no end. And I now try to look at a difficult trick/move as an adventure - like Mount Everest for the hands.

It also makes me seek out performance situations that I’m not good at yet, in the hopes that I can learn, grow and become a well-rounded magician.

Do you avoid hard tricks or get excited by them? What’s the hardest trick you’ve tried to learn? What’s your approach to practice?

 Leave a comment, it’s great to hear from you!

*For you Non-English folks, Scooby-Doo is a children’s cartoon about teenagers and a talking dog who solve crimes that have been committed by masked villains. What a plot! At the end of each episode, they catch the villain and then rip off his mask to reveal he was actually the town sheriff, who everyone knows. Fun! Just like we just ripped off the mask to the secrets of advancing your magic. You know these answers and can now move forward in advanced magic.

Next post: https://www.copelandcoins.com/blogs/news/timeyourpractice

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1 comment

  • Matthew M.

    I apply this principle of working for what is out of reach in my jiu jitsu hobby, and it has served me well there as well as in coin magic. I used to look at Danny Goldsmith’s routines and thought that the majority were unattainable to one such as I. However, I thought the same about some of Rooster’s Okito Fly, but drilling down and becoming competent at those routines inspired me to keep at some of the DG stuff, and now look at me! I can sort of do a few rather not badly! Ha. Seriously though…good post Tim.

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