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Padel Tennis — Subconscious Brain and Language

Written by: Rachel Paling, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Over the last five months, I have taken up a new sport. It’s called Padel, and it is a racket sport, typically played in doubles on a downsized tennis court, which has glass walls. You could say that it is a hybrid of tennis, squash, and fronton, but in fact, this game commands an art and technique of its own. This fascinating new sport has kept me busy with continuous insights over these past five months with my Padel coach.

I started, in fact, in December with my first Padel coach. As a teenager at school, every summer term, we played tennis, and in those years, I was a huge fan of Bjorn Borg. I would religiously watch Wimbledon every year, and Borg was my absolute hero, demonstrating resilience, excellent technique, fantastic brainpower and concentration, and never an inkling of any emotion. I spent hours and hours practicing my tennis shots alone (much to the chagrin of my parents) against our garage or one of the walls of our house. I became quite adept with a racket with constant repetitive practice and later also took up squash.

So, when I started back in December, my first Padel coach was initially quite delighted that I wasn’t a complete beginner with a racket. However, because I’m quite a strong player, he was constantly getting annoyed with me because, more often than not, I was hitting too hard and too long. He hardly ever gave me positive feedback, and most of the time, his attitude and body language seemed to ooze with criticism, plus his often negative remarks. This started to erode my childlike glee of discovering a new sport, and I thought about leaving it.

Luckily for me, this coach moved away, and I started with a new coach in February. Wow, what a difference a coach makes! Enric is a different kettle of fish. Firstly, he is drenched with expertise because he’s been coaching professionally for many years. He detected from the beginning that there were certain things that I had automatized from tennis and squash, but that needed adjusting for Padel. He talked to me in my language: the language of the subconscious brain. In many ways, he reminded me of Timothy Gallwey, the author of the Inner Game of Tennis, an amazing book which talks about the thinking brain and the performing brain.

The point for me was that my subconscious brain, over 35 years ago, created my subconscious programs for playing tennis and squash. Amazingly, I still have this technique, and over the past weeks, Enric has been expertly tweaking my “programming.” Just with slight nuances, just with slight changes, and above all, the way that he positively recognizes me when I do it right, and he praises and acknowledges in such a way that it brings out the best in me. In the last few weeks, I am noticing how the old programming is effortlessly and subconsciously giving way to the newly adjusted programs. My technique, my shots, and my game are developing well.

This entire process has given me many insights and a lot of food for thought relating to the learning process.

1. No matter what we are learning, the person guiding us through this process is key. If the educator makes the learner feel bad, negative, unable to do it the right way, and, in general, feel that they are not making progress, this will generate the desire to throw in the towel and the internal feelings of inadequacy. When you have a constantly supporting, empowering coach and believes in you, it does bring out the best of us. The attitude of the educator is key!

2. The amazing discovery that 35 years down the line (and no tennis during those years), I am still performing extremely skilled tennis shots was quite a revelation about the power of my subconscious brain and my extraordinary "muscle memory." This actually got me thinking, "what else was I doing in my school years when I was learning something, and how could I harness that to enhance what I’m learning at the moment."

One thing actually came to mind relating to language learning, which was that in those early years of learning French, I clearly remember having pictorial scenes with the French vocabulary on it. For example, scenes of the farmyard or scenes of the beach or the café and restaurant spurred me to invest in a picture dictionary Russian-English. I will test to see if this could enhance my vocabulary learning in Russian (I will keep you posted!).

3. Another insight was more of a confirmation that to become skilled at anything, we need to repeat it over and over and over again. It has to become second nature. Evidently, my constant beating the ball against the garage as a teenager had ingrained my racket technique so much that over 35 years later, it was still there. Language learning is the same. Constant exposure to the new language is key for both conscious and subconscious input.

After some months of not “inputting” any Russian due to other priorities, last week, I began again to watch a Russian series with subtitles on YouTube for the first time in some months. From now on, I will be trying to expose my subconscious brain to the language as much as I can, as I know my subconscious is constantly paying attention and picking up language patterns and sounds.

4. My final insight is that tweaking old habits and ingrained practices is not easy but not impossible. With the right encouragement and expertise from an expert coach, who instantly can detect what needs adjusting, we can alter and adapt, building up from previous knowledge. In this respect, it is essential for the coach always to find out the learner's starting point. By doing so, we respect that everybody is different, and we can help that particular learner from their particular start point.

My second coach acknowledged me for my brilliant tennis strokes while gently insinuating that together we could springboard from that and adjust it to the necessary technique for this particular game. His expertise was phenomenal. It reminded me of the story of the Japanese chicken sexing experts, who could discern the gender of baby chicks just by looking at them immediately after being born. To the normal eye, this task is absolutely impossible because they look the same. Still, the Japanese experts distinguished males from females because their subconscious brains recognized the difference.

My expert Padel coach could sense and detect my slightest wrong move in the most amazing way. Language experts similarly can instantly detect when language needs tweaking and adjusting. Having a neuro language coach with the right expertise and the right sensitivity propels people to learn a language by constantly scaffolding previous knowledge and harnessing native/target language associations.

As a final note, I strongly recommend thinking back to things you were doing during your school years and asking yourself the question, "what was I doing well back then that I could harness now to help me with what I am learning or doing today?"

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Read more from Rachel!


Rachel Paling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Rachel Marie Paling is an International Game Changer in Education, in particular, the education of languages. She has created the method and approaches Neurolanguage Coaching, which incorporates professional coaching and neuroscience principles into the learning process. She coaches and trains teachers worldwide, transforming them into certified and ICF accredited Neurolanguage coaches and has created the Neurolanguage Coach network with over 700 NL Coaches in just over 70 countries worldwide and is now bringing the approach to schools and institutions over the world through her licensed trainers and in nine languages. Rachel started teaching language at 17 and has a BA Honours in Law and Spanish, MA in Human Rights. She is a qualified UK lawyer, MA in Applied Neuroscience, and a PCC ICF Life Coach. She is the author of the books Neurolanguage Coaching and Brain-friendly Grammar and has written numerous blog articles about learning, coaching, and neuroscience. She has spoken at many international conferences, and her company was awarded the Bronze Award at the Reimagine Education Awards 2019 in the Science in Education category. She is dedicated to the shift in education and is currently establishing an educational foundation to bring coaching, neuroscience, and heart science into educational processes.


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