Over the last 15 months, most of my reading has been about the body’s most mysterious and marvelous organ–the brain. Over the next two weeks I’ll distill a lot of what I’ve learned into a new ebook How Swimming Builds a Better Brain . . . and How the Brain can Build a Better Swimmer I’ll share interesting nuggets here.
Have you noticed, as an adult swimmer, how long it takes to learn a new skill? I noticed. Since 1988, virtually all of my coaching has been with “adult-onset swimmers” – people who had no formal coaching in their youth. From 1972-1988 I’d coached younger people. So I had lots of opportunity to compare how adults and kids reacted to a new skill or drill.
The kids would seem to be barely paying attention as I described it, but on their first length, they would usually come pretty close to what I was hoping to see.
The adults would listen intently. I’d see them, brows furrowed, mulling it over. Some would do a bit of “air swimming” rehearsals. No matter. For all their attention and desire. their first attempt usually bore little resemblance to what I’d been trying to describe.
Here’s why: According to Barbara Strauch’s book The Secret Life of the Grown Up Brain in middle age, our brains learn new tasks more slowly. The good news is that we gain more from repetition than younger brains.
And that’s where motivation and engagement — which were strikingly evident at TI Workshops — pays a big dividend. Patient, examined repetition is the key to learning any motor skill. As I’ve noted before, it takes up to 7000 reps to burn a simple skill into muscle memory, and up to 20,000 to make a complex skill permanent.
And the longer it takes us to learn something, the longer we remember it. So slower is better when it comes to learning swim skills.