Train Your Brain with a New Sport


Can learning a new sport increase your overall ability to learn?

Absolutely, Gretchen Reynolds wrote recently in the New York Times. Learning a new sport may be good for the brain, she says.

Her “crash course in snowboarding” yielded multiple benefits. Not the least of which was underscoring how we learn – by trial and error and bit by bit.

Stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP, is the new recreational activity I’m learning. And as I do, I see many parallels with learning anything new. Here are 10.

Doing. The way to learn something new is by actually doing it on a regular basis. Lessons are a good way to start. Depending on what you’re learning, a lesson may be best in person (definitely the case for SUP) or online (certainly an option for my data-focused learning journey).

Experimenting. During today’s SUP session, I tried some different things. What happened if I leaned a bit to the right or the left? Bent my arms and legs slightly? Tried to stop by placing my paddle further into the water?

Equipping. Having the right tools is important for any activity. That doesn’t always mean the most expensive equipment, or having every last available gadget. But in my case, the winter jacket I got last week keeps me warm on cool Southern California mornings. And it has plenty of room for my shoulders and arms to move while paddling.

Questioning. What else do I need to do to learn and enjoy this new activity? How can I make it more of a workout? What will I need to change over time to keep the experience new and fresh? Is there a goal I can work toward? In the short term, for this summer, it’s paddleboard yoga. In the long term, for next year, maybe it’s training for a race.

Reading. After our first (and so far only) lesson, I read a few articles about the proper technique. Initially I was so focused on keeping my balance that I needed to revisit the finer points of proper stroke technique, how to turn and how to stop. There are many great articles and videos online.

Committing. What will be the catalyst to continue this activity? In my case it was getting an annual membership today. The more my husband and I paddle, the less expensive each session becomes. It reminds me of my high-school skiing days. I’d motivate myself to take that final run of the day in order to bring down the average cost per run. Maybe that explains my college major in economics.

Scheduling. Beyond the commitment is getting our sessions on the calendar. Each weekend, I look at our family’s school, sports and community commitments. Then I schedule on our calendar when we’ll paddle. It’s the same thing with my Sunday morning yoga class. When it’s on the calendar, it’s harder to skip it.

Sharing. This is special time my husband and I are spending together. And I have a friend or two who will join us this spring. It’s fun to talk about what works, how to navigate on our boards and wonder together why our feet get a bit numb while we paddle. It might be time for more lessons.

Multiplying. The jargon-appropriate term here would be “stacked win.” But whenever you can accomplish multiple objectives with a single activity, that’s a great thing in our busy worlds. With SUP there’s an arm and core workout, family time, outdoor air and the novelty of something new for your body. Which benefits your brain and stimulates greater ability to learn in other areas of life.

Enjoying. There’s a meditative quality to gliding across the water. Listening to waves crashing outside the marina. Smiling at the sight of seals enjoying a marine mammal barge as we paddle boy. Time seems to slow down. Life comes into greater focus. The brain stretches and grows in new ways, right along with the body and soul.

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Caroline Leach

Hi, I'm Caroline Leach. I help people and organizations tell their stories. I'm a Marketing VP at AT&T, a former Communications VP at DIRECTV and an alum of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. This blog, How to Build Your Career through Social Media, shows you how to build your personal brand, advance your career and embrace your future. It helps you promote your employer and your network too. Opinions expressed in this blog are my own. Your comments are welcomed and encouraged. I'd love to hear from you!

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