sports psychologist & clinical psychology

ATTITUDES THAT ENHANCE LEARNING

Mental Equipment Syndicated Column – Oct 1, 1998 – Dr. John F. Murray – You might believe that your mental equipment toolbox is full. What more can you possibly do to develop a stronger mental game? Even if you’ve been exposed to massive amounts of information, all this advice and encouragement is no good unless real learning takes place. Genuine learning only occurs when information is accurately transmitted and received, and then converted into a meaningful experience that enables you to improve your performance. This month, let’s examine a few attitudes that will definitely enhance your learning.

Endless Curiosity

Perhaps the most basic requirement for real learning is an endless curiosity or quest for knowledge. Many consider learning rewarding in itself. Although this is good, I would much prefer to put my knowledge of sports performance into use in competition. Why read about goal setting without actually setting goals?

My graduate school training director once told our class that real learning begins only after the Ph.D. Although this was surely an exaggeration, it highlighted the truth that there is no magical endpoint of knowledge, especially an advanced degree. We must continue striving to learn all our lives, and curiosity is the foundation for much of this quest.

Healthy Modesty

If you think you’re the smartest thing since Einstein, and have all the answers, then you should probably also consider the following quote:

“The brighter you are the more you have to learn”
Don Herold, A Little Learning is a Dangerous
Thing, St.Martin’s Press, 1994

I love this quote because it shows that as your knowledge and skills increase, the capacity for even more advanced learning increases too. Once you think you’ve “arrived,” you can bet that your performance is about to decline. Your brightness will only blind you and you’ll soon be surpassed by those with much better vision.

Openness to Change

Even today’s top tennis players are far from reaching the human capacity for tennis performance. Have you ever watched videotapes of top tennis matches from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s? Notice any differences in power, spin, style? How do you think an average teaching pro of 1998 would fare in a hypothetical match against Don Budge in his 1938 prime, when he won the Grand Slam (Wimbledon, French, Australian, US)? In my opinion, Budge would be scrambling for his tennis life, even if players chose the same rackets and shoes. Despite Budge’s undeniable greatness, the game has changed remarkably over the past 60 years. Some of the more popular techniques of the past look downright horrendous today!

We are constantly learning new and better physical as well as mental techniques. Fast forward to the year 2040 and the tennis of today will most certainly cause chuckles. You wouldn’t want to retain a “thumber backhand” any more than you’d want to maintain poor concentration (See my November, 1995 Article Attentional Control In Tennis). What’s amazing is that players at all levels are only now beginning to take mental skills seriously! As new proven mental techniques are developed, be open enough to make them a real part of your game, or you may look even funnier in that 2040 video.

Whether you’re a player, coach, or athlete’s parent, work hard in developing those attitudes that enhance learning. By encouraging curiosity, modesty and an openness to change you’ll be on your way toward converting raw information into meaningful change.

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