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  • Mark Brafield

Learn to skate in the summer

This morning I was watching the Winter Olympics and marvelling, as I am sure we all were, at the staggering achievements of the figure skaters. What struck me in particular was how the skaters advance technically year on year. When I watched the skating as a child, a triple spinning jump was regarded as the limit of what was possible, but nowadays the skaters have to incorporate several quadruple spins to stand any chance of winning a medal.

This shows the ability of highly-trained athletes constantly to develop physically and mentally, but the same is true, albeit at a lesser level, for all of us.

The Russians have a saying, that you 'learn to skate in the summer and learn to swim in the winter'. What they mean is that, mentally, you assimilate the physical discipline of the sport during the season when you do not practice it. Similarly, in a recent conversation with a distinguished piano teacher, he asserted the importance of never practicing for more than 40 minutes in any one session in order to give the brain the time it needed to process and assimilate the new material.

This is an essential part of how we learn, and of how the brain is constantly adapting and updating itself.

Brain scans have shown that when we think that we are 'doing nothing', our brain is actually using more energy than when we are engaged in, for example, solving a complicated maths equation. Scientists think that this hidden activity (hidden from us, that is), is the brain catching up with the activity of the day, processing it, storing it away for future use and anticipating and rehearsing future occasions when that new skill can be put into effect.

So learn to skate in the summer, and learn to swim in the winter.

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