I’ve recently taken up playing squash. Well, it was actually a year ago, but if you watched me play, you would be forgiven for thinking it was only last week I started!
A year into the game, I’m so frustrated that I’m not yet challenging Susan Devoy’s records for world domination – especially when I watch how quickly my six-year-old son, Cooper, has picked it up.
There’s science behind why Cooper has learned to play more quickly than me. Long story short, it’s all about the prefrontal cortex of your brain (where your working memory is stored) being more developed in adults than kids. So as adults we see things as they really are, or are hampered by a functional fixedness, whereas kids are more open to learning new things and being creative – meaning a kid might look at a mattress and see a trampoline, where adults see, well, a mattress!
And the other annoying thing is that if we teach kids something early enough, then that skill becomes hard-wired in their brains (and they become unconsciously competent), meaning that they can then stop doing something as a child and then pick it up again 20 or 30 years later and do much better than an adult just starting out. This is typical with kids who have learned to play an instrument when they’re young and then pick up a guitar many years later and it all comes back to them – same with learning another language. I’ve seen this on the squash court too, where I’ve come up against players of my age who haven’t played since they were at school, yet they have innately beautiful racquet skills, and a few matches into the season, they’re back where they left off.
In designing and delivering training for adults, we’re mindful of the science around adult learning principles (like adults need learning to be relevant and practical, and adults are problem orientated and want to apply what they’ve learned, etc) but forgetting all of that for now, the one thing that will make a big difference to learning anything, even me with squash, is practice.
Boring but true.
That’s why in our programmes we spend a lot of time in experiential activities such as skills practice/role playing using the new theory we have learned. Giving our participants time to put their own unique flavour on the content, so that when they’re back in the real world, it’s not the first time the words have come out of their mouth. If they’re learning how to sell, then we practice how they’re going to overcome the most common objections, or practice how to ask good open questions to understand the client’s needs. If they’re learning how to give performance feedback, they practice the difficult conversations they’re likely to have back at work, and so on.
Most of us know the story of Dan Carter practicing his goal kicking at home as a kid – you can watch him talk about it below.
I remember reading an interview with Dan’s father around the time of the 2015 Rugby World Cup and him saying “Dan’s always loved practicing and he’s always the last to leave practice”.
As Dan’s old man says, ‘practice makes perfect’.
I’ll let you know at the end of the season how I’ve got on!