March 31, 2016
Being a teacher for over a decade has led me to some interesting observations that have helped me become a better learner of tennis. We have all heard that kids (Specifically 12 and under) can learn at a much faster rate than adults. This is true. But it doesn't stop there. There are many reasons behind this but there are a few interesting concepts to understand regarding this. The prefrontal cortex is still being developed as a child (It can take males sometimes in their 20s to have it fully developed!) while an adult has a fully functioning P.C. The reason why this is important is that the prefrontal cortex gives us reasoning for the world around us. Adults see things in black and white while children who are still having this developed see things in many different views. A child can be much more creative in their ways of thinking, allowing them to learn at a faster rate. Basically, adults' brains are designed to perform while kids' brains are designed to learn.
It gets more interesting from there. Research has shown that children can learn faster but can only take in 3 new things at a time while adults need more time to learn new items but can take on around 6- 9 items at a time. It can take a child to learn 3 new things in 2 weeks while it will take an adult around 6 weeks. So the amount of information over the course of 6 weeks is the same but how we approach learning is different for a child and an adult.
The reason behind this other than the development of the prefrontal cortex is the working memory that adults have compared to children. When I introduce a new technique for an adult, they immediately take that information and associate it with something they already know, making it easier to remember. This is also why it takes longer to learn for adults. They are constantly associating bad habits they have learned with the new habits that I am trying to teach them. The saying "you can't teach an old dog new tricks" seems to be correct then, doesn't it? Research disagrees, as long as you are patient and persistent with your learning. It will take an adult a lot longer to learn a new forehand than a child but they can master it if they have the desire and dedication to do this. While learning the new forehand, adults can learn many other techniques at the same time, thanks to their working memory they can associate the new experiences too. As you can see, this is a double edged sword because of the fact that their working memory can help adults learn more items but at the same token, it will take them longer to learn. As for kids, they do not have a big "filing cabinet" that they can associate new experiences with, making them able to learn faster since they do not associate new habits with old, bad habits but they also cannot learn too many things at once since they have to create a whole new working memory the new habits.
For example, as a tennis instructor coming up with a 6 week program for adults vs kids, I will focus on 3 basic principles for kids to work on every two weeks. As a parent, I recommend you follow the same thing when you are trying to teach your child tennis or any other sport. If you give more than 3 items, they will lose them but you're not sure which one, making it less effective. On the other side of the spectrum, an adult program will have a lot of new techniques and strategies but they will not change throughout the entire program. If you are trying to teach yourself something new on the tennis court, keep this in mind.