This week I went to Yoga for the first time in a month. Summer holidays, mine and the teacher’s, had meant a break. The class was a horror show for me. My strength had declined, co-ordination was all over the place and as for my balance…
In contrast I also did running drills for the first time in month. They were smooth and with no discernible quality difference from a month ago. So what was going on?
Yoga is a newish skill for me in the last couple of years. I practice once or twice a week with gaps here and there when I’m away on business. The result is that the movement patterns aren’t yet burned into my deep memory. Any let up in practice and I quickly start to go backwards in my skill level.
Running is a different game. I’ve been doing it since I was 18 months old. I’ve practiced specific technical drills countless times. The nerve cells in the relevant pathways are coated deeply in myelin and the complex skills of those drills are now as good as unforgettable.
Sport shines a bright spotlight on this learning regression when we miss practice but what about less visible skills. The kind of stuff we ‘learn’ on training courses at work and then practice only periodically while kidding ourselves and our boss that we really have improved.
Great training may start with an inspiring experience to show us new skills and get us going but it requires sustained, focused practice over an extended period of time to really shift our skill level to the point where it becomes automatic. It is one of the big challenges of the time for businesses - how to create that learning environment for employees (and suppliers, customers and freelancers?). There is much that can be learned from elite performers in sport and the arts when it comes to designing learning programs.
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