Mastering the Finer Points

Outside magazine, May 1996


Mastering the Finer Points


For Robyn Erbesfield, precision is the surest route to perfection in any discipline. "Think of the best athlete in your sport," she says. "It's the precision that defines the distance between our level and his."
What she means by precision can be boiled down into any number of aphorisms: Know where you're going. Think before you strike. Pick your spot. "When I climb," she says, "I take each hold one time and one time only. If you try one thing and then another, by the time you figure out where you want your hand, you could have made the move three times."

To Erbesfield, true precision has three components:

Time. "Think of a mountain biker heading into a switchback. He's got to be ready to crank the handlebars at just the right time."

Space. "Imagine going up to spike a volleyball. If you're off to the right or left by just a couple of inches, all you'll be slamming is air."

Energy. "The best example is in golf. You must follow through with just enough force--and no more--to hit the perfect drive."

In her clinics, Erbesfield teaches precision by running students up a route, telling them exactly where to put their hands and feet--the tip of a horn, smearing a flat rock--and with exactly what hold. Any sport can be approached the same way, but Erbesfield takes it further, encouraging people to turn everyday activities into precision drills. "When you're out walking," she says, "find the route that will get you there the fastest. When you pick up the phone, grab it in the same place each time."

Finally, she also recommends a Deadhead/river guide version of a precision drill: Hacky Sack. "Eye contact is the most crucial element of precision, on the rock, in whitewater, or in a Hacky Sack game," she says. "When you play, try to place the sack right in the cup of your arch. Remember, look, think, and then act--once."

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