Fly Casting Practice Update 2.1: 80% is a Magic Number

If you search the internet for something like “learning practice skills 80/20” you’ll get a surprisingly broad range of hits on everything from the Pareto principle to corporate sales success and rock climbing. Refine the search by adding “sports” between “practice” and “skills” and you will get leads to a wide variety of sports and fitness training. I’m not into numerology but I do find it interesting that the 80/20 split bobs up so often, in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts.

Back when I wrote the article on fly casting practice I noted that a lot of elite level sports coaches rely on identifying the 20% of things that matter most and get their players to spend 80% of their time working on those things.

My frequent use of a medium distance (my comfort zone) was mentioned. Back then it was about 60′ which is a tad under 80% of the outer range (80′) of fishing casts I wanted to make confidently and reliably.

I also noted advice given to me by John Waters to practice casting technique refinements at about 70% of the speed and effort normally used for a given distance. To do that you need to shorten up the actual target casting distance but use the range of movement you would normally use for a longer cast. (Call that longer distance 100%,) Use a 100% range of movement for a “70%” distance but only use 70% of the usual speed and therefore, effort.

More recently I added Practice Regime Update 2.0 (and see also the blog post Fly Casting Practice 2.0 ) to reflect my contemporary objectives which have modestly extended fishing distance out to 90′ (from 80′). In the last few sessions I’ve made progress in increasing efficiency by reducing effort – especially after becoming even more ruthless in detecting and excluding effort increases disproportionate to distance increases. I’ve noticed that 70′ seems to on its way to becoming my new medium distance comfort zone. Guess what, 80% of 90 is 72.

Without over-egging the pudding I think 80% is quite a useful number:

  • I’m staying with an indicative time allocation of 80% for the most important 20% of skills to master.
  • Eighty percent of the maximum intended distance (with accuracy) is a good place to look for a casting comfort zone within which we can find the effort profile we want to preserve as distance is increased (or decreased) from there.
  • Pursuing more distance with less effort I reckon 80% is roughly the absolute ceiling on how hard I’m prepared to go at any cast.
  • Progressive increases in cast distance serve to indicate overall progress on technique refinement and to identify exactly where technique begins to falter. Back up to about 80% of that marker and repeat the process.
  • Very little time is now spent on maximum distance casts – less than 5% probably – and then only with restrained effort.
  • One hundred percent of effort or practice time seeking maximum distance is very bad juju.