Whether you've got a lot of time to invest or you've got little time to work with, these ideas should help you make the most out of your practice sessions so that you can utilize your skills faster!
Plan out your practices and set a goal for what you would like to accomplish. Perhaps set a priority and focus on one thing you want to be sure to improve on before the time is over. Do you want to achieve more single hoop skills or are you needing more practice with double hoops? Do you need cleaner planes with your poi? Focus on what is most important to you and your goals as a flow artist.
Make it a Routine
Try to set aside specific days and hours you will dedicate to practicing. Try not to make many exceptions and make them a priority. Try to be consistent and treat your practice hours like work hours, always make sure to get it done!
Use your notes before, during and after practices. If you're in free flow and a really great and new idea comes to you, make sure to write it down so that you can remember it in the future. If you accidentally do a trick or combo you don't want to forget, be sure to write it down in terms your future self will understand once the moment passes.
Read our full article on why taking notes is important: http://www.thespinsterz.com/blog/hooping-improvement-tip-taking-notes/
Make the most out of time spent watching tutorials by taking notes on them, studying them, paying close attention, and maybe even bringing a copy of the tutorial with you to your practice session. You can download tutorials from YouTube or record your computer screen to have a copy where you don't need internet to watch. You can take screen shots of key moments in the tutorial or draw stick figures to remember important things.
Often is Key
The more often you practice, the better you will be. The best case scenario is that you find 2+ hours of practice time at least 3 days per week every week. Strive to practice as often as you can, even if you can't spend a lot of hours. A minimum of 30 minutes will be important to set aside.
Bring a friend or two! Especially if they have at least 3 or more hours to dedicate to it and will keep you as involved as possible. If you have made plans to go practice with friends, you're not likely to back out like you would if you were alone. Pick some high energy friends that will help you stay focused and to try lots of new things. The longer you practice, the better you will get! However, I know that sometimes having friends with you can be distracting and you may need to practice alone. This can include when you need to record tutorials or other types of videos. Whichever meets your goals the best works!
Be Held Accountable
If you need help following through, post your goals to social media, tell a friend, write a note to yourself, or do something else that will hold you accountable and keep your motivation going. Perhaps commit to recording a tutorial for someone and make sure you practice before or after that session. Don't let yourself back out, you will thank yourself later!
Set Yourself up for Success
Use the best flow props and equipment for your needs. Don't expect to learn and succeed using low quality or less than ideal props. Don't rely on cheap kids toy hoops from the dollar store to help you learn complicated moves. Don't rely on balled up socks to help you learn to juggle at your best. I didn't get very good at juggling until I bought some high quality, real juggling balls. It made a big difference. If you want to get good at poi, level up to a good professional pair and ditch your old sock poi. Invest in your goals and get the right materials for your needs! See this article: Store bought toy hula hoops: advantages and disadvantages
Practice the same thing over and over until it becomes easier and you're confident you won't drop it during flow. For efficiency, place emphasis on the moves you love but that produce a really inconvenient drop or mistake. For example, a chest roll or a toss with a strong spin on the hoop when gone wrong can send a hoop flying far and rolling really far, and you're probably going to struggle to run fast enough to catch it. You want to keep in mind which way the hoop will roll and face certain directions accordingly, to save yourself the trouble of running forever to get it back. Practice those rolls or tosses against a building or a wall so the hoop doesn't go very far. This is important for practice sessions where you're low energy and not feeling up to running after your hoop.
Incorporate Into Flow
Learning new tricks is great, but it looks even better when you can seamlessly and flawlessly show those new skills while you're in flow doing other skills. Take your planes into consideration and choose one of your favorite older moves to pair with this new trick. Don't forget to include another older move to do right after the new trick, so that you're able to incorporate it and continue in flow after it has been completed! Once you get more used to the new trick, you'll be able to incorporate it into all of the other moves you know as well.
Don't have a notebook or writing utensil? Record your ideas and practices. Do you need to know if what you just did looks as cool as it felt? Record it really quickly and watch it. See what you can do better if you didn't like it. Record yourself practicing to a song and watch it back to look for the following things: are you facing the camera, do you have a good grasp of planes and audience angles? Are you kinda just flailing all over the place?, can you follow through on any moves to make them look clean and complete? Recording is meant to help us improve our skills and often to capture awesome moments that we want to share with others. Utilize your camera to improve your skill set.
Break it into Parts
Break your practice into parts that serve your goals. You aren't likely to want to practice if you can't set aside some fun freestyle time. So for example, set aside time for 1. flow/freestyle 2. drilling 3. trying new tricks and 4. recording. Put them in the order that serves your preferences and style the best. I like to start my practices with lots of freestyle flow while recording to warm up, then flow without recording, and then practice, drill and try new things, followed by a bit more freestyle.
Extra tip: If you suffer from anxiety disorder(s), I highly recommend hooping or practicing your flow arts for a long period of time or for 3-6 hours in 1 day, until you're exhausted and don't have a lot of energy leftover, and then getting a nice full night's sleep that night. I find doing this will relieve my anxiety for up to a week at a time. There is no better cure for my anxiety I have come to find. I hope it helps you too!