This post is a way to solidify my approach to aim training specifically, and skill acquisition in general. It’s something I wished had existed when I started training my aim.

I’m going to give an overview of the approach, some instructions for those who want direction, and a short history of how I’ve come to think how I do. I hope you get something out of it.

The Approach

Your job in practice is to bring together the conditions which encourage improvement. I say this to emphasize that you cannot do improvement. It happens automatically, or doesn’t, as a result of your actions.

You can’t increase your skill level by an act of will. You can’t force it. You can’t blindly apply more effort and expect faster or better results. It takes time. You can’t predict how your effort will be transformed into ability, or how quickly.

These are the things I feel contribute most to skill acquisition, in no particular order:

  • Appropriate goals: You should aim for something achievable, but difficult enough that effort is required. Your goals should inform how you plan your practice.

  • Ability to direct and stabilize attention: If you’re thinking about anything other than what you’re doing while you practice, you’re using mental energy which could be better used to watch what’s happening. Your attention is the most important tool you have in learning any skill. If your attention is unstable, you will miss details which can help tremendously with improvement. Really noticing what happens requires stable attention.

  • Patience and relaxation: Patience is important to reduce the risk of burning out. Relaxation is important to reduce the risk of injury. Both burnout and injury can be huge blocks to your practice.

  • Review: Record yourself and watch it closely later. This gives you the opportunity to catch things you missed while training, because you were performing. Don’t underestimate how helpful this can be, especially when you feel stuck.

Practice planning, review, and sometimes goals themselves can be taken care of by a coach (or not). The rest is your responsibility.

Instructions

Before Practice

Decide what you want to achieve. If possible, frame your goal in terms of qualities or attributes, rather than quantities. For example, rather than pursuing a specific score, pursue the attributes that make that score easier to obtain. Framing things like this makes it much easier to really practice, rather than constantly resetting for a lucky run.

If you can’t figure out what you could do better, record and watch yourself. Watch a top performer do it better. Compare what you do to what they do. Pick just one thing you’d like to do better. Don’t spread yourself thin, and don’t neglect your weaknesses to keep pushing your strengths.

Practice

Stretch and warm up. Your warmup should be something relatively undemanding. Use it to gauge how your body is feeling and where you might need to be more attentive than usual for this session.

Relax. During your practice, stay as relaxed as possible, both physically and mentally. Introduce only as much tension as required. Release unnecessary tension as you notice it. Check in as often as you remember. Make it a habit; it’s one worth building, especially if you spend a lot of time practicing. If you haven’t paid attention to this in the past, you will be much more tense than necessary.

This is the most important bit: intend, then do and observe.

Don’t try to force your body into doing it “right”. Your body doesn’t know what “right” feels like. Teach it.

For each movement, have in mind the attribute you aim to develop. Intend for your movement to be imbued with this attribute, but don’t try to force it. Don’t try to micromanage your body. That introduces unnecessary tension in both body and mind, which leads to injury and burnout. More importantly, it doesn’t help at all in building the skill.

Know what you want your movement to look like, then move. Pay attention to what your actual movement looks and feels like. If you’re paying attention, you will naturally adjust over time as your body learns how it feels to move “more like” or “less like” your goal.

I’m adding a quote here from DharmaOverground user shargrol because it explains what I mean perfectly:

This might sound goofy or strange, but in reality is the same thing that every athlete in the world understands. You don’t force or control the body in sports. You form an intention and let the body does its thing and you try to get out of its way. You stay aware of what is happening and the body itself learns over time what works and what doesn’t. What happens is much more nuanced than our thinking mind. “I’m going to run faster” means nothing to the body, it’s just our little worried mind trying to act like it can make things happen. To run faster you have to feel what running feels like and notice anything that feels like resistance. The body will want to drop that resistance but will need to learn how to become more coordinated, smooth, and efficient over time. It’s at the level of body, not the thinking mind. Making an extra effort often gets in the way of high performance. You need to trust that your body is an amazing performing and learning machine and just spend the time doing the sport and letting the changes occur.

The same goes for your mind as does for the body. It may not be obvious, but all skills are learned in this way. If you are conceptualizing, running through a checklist while you perform each action, you’re getting in your own way, hindering performance and therefore development. At the very beginning you may need to conceptualize a little, and that’s okay. My advice is to move away from that as soon as possible.

I don’t mean to say that you should never make conscious adjustments to how you move. If there is a seemingly obvious way to do it better, and doing that won’t lead to injury, then try it out – but remember to let that happen too. Experiment in a relaxed manner. Stay out of your own way!

After Practice

Regular reviews can be very helpful if you have the time and motivation. Pay attention to how your movements look. You’ll be much better able to pick up on things you’d otherwise miss and unknowingly turn into bad habits.

Story Time

When I began aim training, I was pretty clueless. I’d never really thought about how to improve before.

At first, I thought of improvement as a function of time: the amount of time I spent doing something was the only important variable. After a while, it became obvious that exactly how I used my time was at least as important, but I had no idea how to use my time well.

My initial goal was 40%+ average LG accuracy in Quake Live. I asked around about how to improve, and was given a few pieces of advice.

Some people, weirdly, had the impression that there was no point practicing aim at all. I got into a couple of pointless arguments over that. How could good players not see the value of practice? I’m still a bit baffled.

Some people told me to “just use LG a lot”. It was good advice, but not what I was looking for. I wanted to know where my attention should be while I played, but either articulated it poorly or spoke to people who had never had to think about it.

Some people told me to break it down into certain movements and work on those in isolation, which sounded good, but I had no idea how to do that.

How do you “work on” something? How do you even choose something to work on? I had the vague impression that there was some action I needed to take at each plateau, unique to that plateau, which would push my capabilities forward. Usually this action would involve grinding some specific pattern until I hit some target score or accuracy. I sought direction from more experienced players every time I felt stuck, which was quite often. I’m sure I got annoying. :-)

With time, I developed an intuition for how I should be using my time. I stopped feeling like I needed to be micromanaged, and had great results, but eventually I got distracted from aim training. I kept putting time in, but not as much as before. I started going through the motions, not really paying attention. I stopped progressing, and eventually stopped training altogether. I’ve backslid quite hard since my peak, in terms of raw mouse control.

Recently I’ve begun to feel interested again. At first I felt stuck again, lacking a conceptual base to start from. I’m sure if I started putting in the huge amounts of time that I used to, I’d develop an intuition for productive use of my time again. But I’m not that interested anymore, and I’d prefer not to have to slog through a huge grind every time I come back from a break anyway.

So, with that background, I’ve thought a lot about how to describe the intuition I used to have and how I could use it to help build other skills. This is the result.

End Note

Try not to lose sight of what you’re training for. There will inevitably be times when you aren’t having fun with your training. Make sure you apply it to enjoyable things. Don’t let it become an unenjoyable grind. If you’re training for a game, keep playing that game. Integrate what you learn in practice, but also have fun. Burning out sucks.