Myelination Nation–More on How Pitchers Learn
In the winter of 1988 I was a Lieutenant in the United States Air Force,
assigned to Francis E Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Here’s the number one thing I remember about Wyoming:
IT WAS COLD!
In fact I’m pretty sure there was snow on the ground 8 months out of the year
–paradise for a guy with and incurable baseball addiction.
In December, my little brother, Tim, came to visit.
He was 17, strong, athletic (all state soccer goalie,
national champion knee boarder) and full of vim and vinegar.
He needed to be entertained during his stay,
so I came up with an activity I thought might interest him.
Since all the waterways in the area were frozen over,
I decided to take him ice-skating.
Trouble is, neither of us had ever been ice-skating before…not ever!
What the heck, right? We were both athletes. We’d figure it out.
We rented some skates and headed to a local pond.
It was nice.
Families were there, enjoying each other’s company,
twirling around on the ice with grace and fluidity.
Sitting on the bank, I looked across to the opposite side
and estimated the distance to be about 100 yards.
As we laced on our skates, we made eye contact.
We knew each other well.
Me: “You ever do this before”
Me: “Wanna race to the other side?”
Brother: “20 bucks?”
Me: “Yep. You ready??
By the time he said go, he was already 10 feet ahead.
I sprang to my feet and took off.
I quickly realized I had no preplanned/stored motor pattern
to call upon to skate across in the most efficient manner and win the race.
So my body reverted to the most similar experience it could find—football.
I ran on my skates, falling two or three times in my quest to overtake him.
I noticed he had also done a few headers in the first 20 yards,
so it was clear I had a chance to win this thing.
It might come down to a battle of wills.
A war of attrition,
Victory to the man most willing to persevere.
I mentally dug in for the challenge.
When I caught him, he was just pulling himself off the deck from a hard spill.
Having no plan for braking or changing directions, I did the natural thing.
I rammed him.
I hit him hard.
We crashed onto the ice, both of us tumbling in a wreck of skates,
knees, and elbows.
I bounced up quickly and took off.
After another 20 yards, I still hadn’t figured it out.
As I pulled myself up from another crash,
I looked back and was stunned at what I saw.
He had apparently learned to skate!
He looked like a pro hockey player, smooth and fast, racing for a breakaway goal.
Had he simply veered to the right or left,
he would have cruised to an easy victory and claimed his reward.
But he chose a different route.
He rammed me.
This time when we fell, I had a mental revelation.
It became clear to me I would lose the race unless I could keep him close to me
and sabotage his newly acquired skating prowess.
As he rose, I grabbed his ankle, pulled him to the ice, and leaped over him.
As he stood again, I repeated the maneuver.
We continued in this manner across the pond, our ice-skating race
turning into more of a polar bear wrestling match.
It must have taken us half an hour to traverse the remaining 60 yards.
We both collapsed face first and crawled onto dry ground in complete exhaustion.
Full of cuts, bruises, abrasions, and black eyes,
we removed our skates, walked to our car, and drove home.
All in all it was a nice, relaxing outing.
So why would it be so difficult for two above average athletes
to perform a seemingly simple motor skill like ice-skating?
The answer lies in another of the scientific pillars of The ARMory:
In his game-changing book, “The Talent Code”, author Daniel Coyle
reported the revolutionary research on myelin as the key to the learning process.
Here’s how myelin works:
In the nervous system there are millions of very specialized cells
floating around in the spaces between the nerves
Their job it is to insulate recently fired nerves.
Whenever a circuit is fired, these cells rush to the smoking hot nerve and
wrap themselves around the axon secreting a milky white substance called myelin.
Each time the nerve is fired, it receives a layer of myelin.
This myelin serves as an insulator of the wire.
If you know anything about electrical physics,
you know that impulses moving down insulated wire travel faster
and with less resistance than those traveling on non-insulated wire.
The more layers of myelin deposited onto a nerve
(or a series of nerve-muscle connections)
the less resistance is offered by that pathway.
Since electrical impulses will always follow the path of least resistance,
the circuit with the most myelin is the one that will most likely be repeated.
Keep in mind: your body doesn’t differentiate between right or wrong patterns.
The circuit you fire the most, receives the most myelin–period.
Coaches used to call this “muscle memory.”
Now we have a more clear understanding of its operative mechanism.
Myelin is at the core of all learning (motor and cognitive).
It is the central component in habit forming.
Aristotle had it right. “Excellence is a habit. We are what we repeatedly do.”
The take home message is that we must be careful
to add myelin only to the correct circuits,
because with the exception of some horrible diseases and the effects of aging,
nerves cannot be demyelinated.
Once the myelin is on the nerve, it is there to stay.
Tim and I were terrible at ice-skating, because our neuromuscular systems
had not myelinated the circuits necessary to perform that activity.
Every session at the ARMory is a specifically directed myelin- farming event.
As a result our pitchers learn quickly.
Come train with us!
It’s all about the Myelin baby!!
In future discussions, we will cover the emotional component of learning
and the value of deliberate practice.