/epale/fi/file/sports-lifelong-learningSports in Lifelong Learning
Can learning in sports be lifelong, given that our physical capacities are bound to decrease over time? EPALE talked to Susanne Wolmesjö – neuroscientist, adult educator, and former athlete. For Wolmesjö the question on lifelong learning in sports is a multi-faceted one, depending much on the learning goals of the sportsperson. Ultimately, she thinks, continuous learning in sports may not be premised on the physical dimension at all.
The notion that learning is lifelong is self-evident in the adult learning field
Everyone seems to accept that a person can learn just about anything at any age. Continuous learning is also a must for professional development.
However, learning involving the physical and bodily dimension, such as sports, seems, at face value, to be a different case. Limitations and qualifications to the idea of lifelong learning start to appear. Think of a professional athlete or a sports amateur: they both reach a physical peak at some age after which their performance in that particular sport unavoidably starts to decrease, and professionals have to start preparing for retirement and moving on to other activities.
Does this mean that in the realm of sports, the notion and ideal of lifelong learning does not hold?
Susanne Wolmesjö is an adult educator, entrepreneur and neuroscientist. In addition to running her own education and consultancy company she teaches adults at the Bosön Sports Institute folk high school in Stockholm. Wolmesjö is also a former volleyball player and coach at a high level both in her native Sweden and in the USA.
For her, the question of lifelong learning in sports is both a scientific and a philosophical one. Much depends on the sports in question, and the individual’s own learning goals.
”I do believe that we can continue to develop lifelong skills in sports. Within a single sport, every new skill level comes with new goals and new challenges to learn. When one takes up a new sport entirely, a whole new horizon of skills to master opens up. Add to this the different personal physical and mental challenges each individual has through their lifetime, and we are faced with an ever-expanding field of learning challenges.”
Susanne thinks, however, that at some point, in some sports, we have to accept that our physical fitness might have limits. The sports that require power and speed in strength will be the hardest for the athlete to keep up with. Although we can develop our strength at any age, it might not be enough if we have high goals.
”In this case, to keep developing, we may need to take up a new sports or to consider variations of our old one. Different sports will adapt and develop other ways to perform to be able to continue in a lifelong perspective. One example is walking football, a slower-paced variant of football for senior players or players with mobility challenges.
In addition to my own sport, volleyball, I do other sports such as golf, kayaking and biking. Always new learning and challenges."
In Wolmesjö´s view, then, the athlete’s own goals define the limits of learning – and these limits can be expanded through learning entirely new sports or taking up variations of already mastered ones. Also, an additional way of continuing on the path of learning after a physical peak exists:
”If the role of playing is not motivating anymore, coaching gives new challenges. One of the most profound ways of learning is to teach others. Therefore, the role of sports coaching or a coaching approach in fields not related to sports will give opportunities for lifelong learning as well."
Since 1989, Wolmesjö has been training Taiji guided by a master from China. He tells her that she can never do the same thing twice. Everytime she does a movement or thinks, it is the first time for that movement or thought. It means that for the neurosystem constant and continuous new learning takes place all the time, no matter the age.
”In my point of view then, lifelong learning in sports is possible. It is about your mindset, motivation and acceptance more than the physical dimension,” says Wolmesjö.
Susanne Wolmesjö is a neuroscientist, adult educator and former athlete. Susanne runs her own education and consultancy company www.educationinmotion.se and she also teaches adults at the Bosön Sports Institute folk high school in Stockholm.