When I was in elementary school, my family lived across from a fitness center. With a pool inside, you can bet that my sister and I were making daily trips. Walking through the middle of our front yard gave us a direct path from our front door to the entrance of the center.
It did not take time for our voyages to and from the pool to leave its mark.to my parent’s disgust, the grass became thin, and a clear walking path had formed in the middle of our yard. They asked us to please use the driveway, only 15 feet to the right when walking to the pool. These few feet seemed like a mile. It was nearly impossible to break our ingrained route.
The footpath we created in our yard is similar to the pathways in our brain. We are born with synaptic connections, which are paths our brain uses to communicate. So many in fact that we go through a phase of pruning. Connections that aren’t needed simply disappear. And those that are used often become well defined. The amazing thing about the brain is we continue to make new connections throughout our life.
These new connections are part of a concept called neuroplasticity. Leaders in neuroscience, Michael Merzenich, Norman Doidge, and Jeffrey Schwartz, have looked at the role of the brain and its ability to rewire itself (Howard, 2014). It is found that “Three kinds of plasticity are in play: the capacity of neurons to take on new functions, the capacity of the brain to restructure itself, and the capacity of individuals to change their behavior” (Howard, 2014, p. 43).
Just like the footpath in our front yard, we can make new paths in the way our brain is wired. Over time, doing tasks that are new, or in a different way, forms a pathway in our brain. The more we do it, the thinner the grass gets, and the easier it is for our brain to follow the path.
Thus, it is important to remember neuroplasticity is continually occurring.
A condition often used to help understand neuroplasticity is a stroke. After a stroke individuals may have limitations with one side of their body, called hemi paresis. It is challenging for them to move their right arm and right leg. This is because the stroke acted like a storm that destroyed the clear footpath that existed before.
However, as individuals continue to work on skills that are challenging, the brain begins to find ways to communicate. It can find the old path and clear away the debris. If that is not possible, the brain can find a new undiscovered route that works. The possibilities are truly endless with the brain and neuroplasticity.
Pathways in the Pool
For kids who are just starting to swim, many neuropathways needed for fundamentals skills have not been blazed. They need practice, so their brain can develop appropriate neuro-connections to help their brain communicate with their body. That is where we come in! Our coaches are knowledgeable and patient as they work with you and your children to build the necessary skills to make them confident, courageous, successful, and most of all, safe.
These paths form at different rates based on each person’s unique environment and anatomy of the brain. Be patient, find effective ways to praise their progress, and allow the brain to find its way!
Ready to help blaze a path for others? Did you know we are nonprofit, offering need based scholarships to teach economically disadvantaged children, special needs children and Service-Disabled Veterans to become One with the Water! When you donate now, you can help reduce the risk of drowning for children by up to 88%! Be a hero and help us save the life of a child.
Want more details? Visit our foundation page to be a hero.
Howard, P. J. (2014). The owner’s manual for the brain: The ultimate guide to peak mental performance at all ages. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Molly is a member of our creative team, mom of four water-loving babies, and a fierce advocate for CPR training and really early swim instruction.