Private Swim Coaching in Boston and New England

Let’s begin to learn how we learn!

August 26th, 2016 | Jim Richardson | Swim Fever LLC |



Humans are capable of developing high levels of ability and efficiency in a wide range of skills. So what does it take to become a highly skilled performer? First and foremost it is important to understand how we learn. When we attempt to do new things, the brain begins to work, both consciously and subconsciously, to connect all of the brain cells (neurons) responsible for performing that skill. The stimulus of trying to perform a new skill causes the brain’s cells to interconnect with one another in order to exchange “information” necessary to the performance of that task. They do this by sending out new “feelers” known as axons.  These axons begin connecting with one another and thus creating new neural connections. As the task is repeatedly practiced the brain “insulates” these connections with a substance called myelin. Myelin causes the connections to exchange information more rapidly…..the more myelin, the greater the skill level. The more you practice the skill, the more your brain remembers and sets that skill in its memory.

A great example of how this works is learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels.  Little boy crying on a path, near his bikeSome basic skills are developed when learning to ride a tricycle and then a bicycle with training wheels. Once the training wheels come off the next new set of components are added. Many kids struggle with the process of “figuring out” how to ride the bike without the training wheels.  Some even get injured in the process. This year I met a young boy who told me he spent a week in the hospital due to an accident that happened when he was trying to learn how to ride his bike. I asked him whether he ever learned how to do it.  After all, he had injured himself and the easy thing would have been to quit trying. He replied that he did learn.  So I asked him “If you injured yourself so badly why did you continue to try to learn?” His reply was that he didn’t want to be the only one riding with training wheels.  In other words, he didn’t want to get left behind. When you struggle with learning a new skill, remember….you learned how to ride a bike without training wheels, you can do this! Don’t get left behind!

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