Brain Lessons from the Olympics

thESF41607Aren’t our Olympians amazing!  I can’t begin to imagine flying down a hill on a snowboard, launching into the air, doing three backwards rotations, then landing flat on the snow at top speed in preparation for another trick.

I marvel that anyone could learn to do that with all of the bumps, bruises, and breaks it must take along the way.

As a competitive ice skater, my daughter once had a coach who told her that it would take 1000 falls for each new double or triple jump learned.  A thousand falls!

There is something to be learned from our Olympic athletes.  In order to depend upon the muscles to do the job automatically, even under pressure, they must experience the movements done correctly over and over and over.  This kind of intense, repetitive, systematic training creates neuropathways, literal connections between many parts of the brain that cause that action or activity to become permanently etched in the brain.

In the mid-1980’s Dr. Michael Merzenich and a team of neuro-scientists, discovered what they called “brain plasticity.”  This is the brain’s ability to build new neuropathways through intensive and repetitive training.  This is fantastic news.  We can now apply the same principles of training that are used by high-level athletes to re-training the brain for easier learning and even permanently correcting most learning disabilities.

Children and adults with learning and attention challenges are typically taught to compensate for their difficulties.  This is like a runner with a rock in his shoe learning to run on the side of his foot to avoid the rock.  It can be done, but the runner will have to work far harder than he should and may never perform to his potential.

Why not just take the rock out of the shoe?

Great question.  Obvious question, really.  But what if you didn’t believe the rock could be taken out of the shoe?  Then you would just learn to live with it.  And if it was your child with the rock, you would try to give him strategies to cope with it, ways to get around it.  If you didn’t know there was a rock in the shoe, you might think the child was just lazy or not very motivated.

This is exactly what is happening to children who struggle in school.  It is commonly believed that learning and attention challenges are permanent conditions.  Therefore, people who suffer from them, must find ways to cope.   Traditional education and tutoring generally help students by giving them accommodations such as smaller learning groups; fewer problems or spelling words; slower and more step by step instruction; lower level materials; more time on tests, and more interactive methods of teaching.

What traditional education and tutoring are not doing is retraining the brain to process information more effectively so that the student can learn independently and automatically without special accommodations.

But we know it can be done.  When children and adults struggle to learn, it is usually because solid efficient pathways have not been established, causing them to perform inconsistently and keeping them from feeling secure and confident in their abilities.

We know that this can change.  Just like our Olympians, it takes working on the right things and training with intensity and persistence, but the underlying skills that support comfortable, independent learning can be developed!

If you or someone you know is struggling with a reading or learning challenge and you would like to better understand the root and the solution to the problem,

JOIN US for a Parent Information Night at our Chino or Irvine Center.  For information and RSVP go to:

Resource available at or by visiting one of our centers:


Recent Posts



Ready to take the next step?

Speak to a Learning Specialist to learn more about the results from students and parents at Stowell Learning Centers.