Training Your Eyes To Hit That Curveball

Training Your Eyes To Hit That Curveball

“Just keep your eye on the ball.”  Seems like simple enough advice for a young slugger at the plate.  That may work in the early years of Little League baseball when the pitches they see  have not yet cracked 50 mph. 

But as the fastballs get faster and the change-ups get slower, having quick eyes and an even quicker perceptual brain is the only way hitters will be able to “hit it square” with a round bat and a round ball.  

Which is exactly why psychology researchers at the University of California - Riverside (UCR) teamed up with the college’s varsity baseball players; to see if advanced visual perception training could help their at-bat performance.  While previous vision training research had focused on strengthening a player’s specific eye muscles, the results never transferred well to the batter’s box.  UCR professors

Read More

The Subliminal Power Of Positive Cheering

Young athletes often hear phrases of encouragement like, “dig a little deeper” or “you have to want it more than they do” or, ideally, “be mentally tough.”  For most kids, these words from a coach, a parent or a teammate go in one ear and out the other. 

But, what if there was actually some scientific substance to the words?  Could the smiling, confident face of a coach delivering a pep talk actually have a subliminal effect on performance?  While the conscious brain may dismiss this positive talk, the subconscious mind may actually be putting it to work, according to new research from sports scientists at the University of Kent in England.

Read More

Sleep - The Next Best Thing To Practice

As usual, Mom was right.  Her advice to get to bed early is being confirmed by human performance researchers, sleep specialists and sports medicine doctors. Kids, especially young athletes, need more sleep.  

While common sense tells us that a lack of shut-eye will cause children to be grumpy from a lack of energy, new knowledge about the brain details how sleep affects not only their physiological functions but also their ability to learn new skills.

Read More

For Aaron Rodgers, Practice Makes Perfect Motor Skills

During a Green Bay Packers win over the Atlanta Falcons earlier this season, Peter King, the NFL's dean of sportswriters, found a new level of respect for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  Here's how King  described one particular third and two play late in the first quarter:

"At the snap, Rodgers’ first look, a long one, was to the left for Nelson. Well covered. Quickly Rodgers turned to the right, to where Cobb was planting his foot in the ground three or four yards upfield and preparing to run a simple in-cut; at the same time, his cover man, cornerback Desmond Trufant, was going to have get through traffic to get to the ball if Rodgers was going to make the throw to Cobb."

Read More

How Video Games Can Improve Your Kids' Hand-Eye Coordination

Well, there goes that golden piece of parental logic.  For years, we’ve been arguing, imploring and threatening our kids to get off their Xbox, PS4 or even Wiis (are those still around?) and get outside for some fresh air and reality.  It isn’t healthy, we argued, to sit in front of that TV and play video games for hours.  While we still have the cardiovascular argument in our corner, new research just confirmed that gaming actually improves our kids’ ability to learn new sensorimotor skills.

Read More

Kids Who Move Can Grow Their Brain

If there is one thing that Charles Hillman wants parents and teachers to understand, it is the power of aerobic activity to improve the brains of young children.  From his Neurocognitive Kinesiology Lab at the University of Illinois, Professor Hillman has produced study after study showing not only cognitive improvement in the classroom but also the brain’s physical changes that occur when kids become more fit.  

His latest research, in collaboration with postdoctoral researcher Laura Chaddock-Heyman and Arthur Kramer, Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, reveals more compact white-matter tracts in the brains of a group of 9 and 10 year olds who were in better shape than their peers.

Read More

Maybe Your Kids Inherited Your Couch Potato Genes

On the road to sports success, young athletes need two ingredients, innate skills and the willingness and determination to get better.

We all know boys and girls who showed early promise that got them noticed but then didn’t have the drive to practice every day to develop that talent. Often labeled lazy or unmotivated, the assumption was that they chose their own path by not working hard.

However, new research shows evidence that genetics may play a role not only in the natural abilities of a developing superstar but also in their practice persistence and physiological response to training.

Read More

See The Game Through The Eyes Of The Quarterback

Going into the start of football season, there is plenty of expert commentary on what makes up the “right stuff” when evaluating quarterbacks. Everything from arm strength to height to foot skills to the size of their hands was measured and dissected to find the magic combination of variables. While the body mechanics of delivering a football on target are vital, QBs rely even more on their vision both before and after the ball is snapped.

It’s not just knowing where and when to look at an opposing defense but also understanding what to look for across the line. Defensive players are taught to “read the eyes” of the quarterback to gain clues to the play call. Coaches ask their QBs, “What are you seeing out there?” or “Where were you looking on that play?” Now, with the help of an innovative helmet cam, coaches, players and maybe even fans can get behind the mask and get answers to those questions.

Read More

How To Train The Runner's Brain - An Interview With Jason Fitzgerald

As productive human athletes, we just assume that we can knock down any walls put in front of us and conquer new feats of greatness if "we just put our mind to it."  Our conscious brain sets goals, gives pep talks and convinces us that with the right training plan, we can finish a race of any distance. 

But, when we're stretching our training run farther than ever before, the little voice in our head pops up to try to talk some sense into us; "that's enough for today" or "there's a lot of pain happening right now, time to quit."  

As I discussed in last week's post about the central governor theory, neuropsychologists are finding new ways to acknowledge and actually train the conscious brain to ignore or at least delay the stop orders coming from the subconscious, physiological control center.

Read More

Fight Fatigue By Overriding Your Brain's Urge To Quit

What makes an endurance athlete quit? Not quit the sport, but quit during a competition.  Every runner, swimmer, or cyclist starts a race with the desire to win or at least achieve a personal best time.  They’ve done the pre-race math - keep at a certain pace for the entire distance to achieve the target time.  Their wearable technology keeps them updated on heart rate, distance and split times to stay on that pace.  

However, at the finish line, many athletes are not able to maintain their strides/strokes per minute, giving in to the perception that their energy tank is empty.

Read More

Marathons Are Tough On The Heart, But Training Helps

Now that it’s mid-April, thousands of amateur runners are realizing the time has come to get serious about their Spring marathon training plans.  The easier 4-6 mile weekday jogs increase quickly into 10-15 mile weekend long runs.  For those new to endurance distances, this jump in mileage can put a strain not only on the legs but also on the heart.  

In fact, there’s been some confusing research in the press lately with some claiming a marathon can do some coronary damage while others praising the health benefits of the cardiovascular training.

Read More

Maybe Your Kids Don't Want To Play Sports

Has this happened to you?  Your daughter comes home from soccer practice and defiantly declares, “I can’t stand my coach, my team is awful and I don’t even like soccer.  I quit!”  Your parental thermostat kicks in as you try to gently lower the temperature in the room with those responses that all kids despise, “Oh, come on now, it can’t be that bad” or “But you’re good at soccer” and finally, “You know our rule, once you start something, you have to finish it. You can’t quit.”

You’ll talk to her coach, you’ll buy her new cleats, even get her on a better team.  But as parents, we often don’t even consider the remote possibility that… wait for it…. our child does not want to play soccer, or basketball or golf or even Aussie rules football.

Read More

Achieving The Rise Of Flow: An Interview With Steven Kotler

wo years before he stood on the Sochi Olympics podium with a gold medal around his neck, alpine skier Ted Ligety took a trip to Alaska.  There was no qualifying race or Team USA training session, but rather a heli-skiing trek in the Chugach Mountains with a film crew from Warren Miller Entertainment.  

The risk level was high, even for one of the best skiers in the world.  But that's what keeps the best on the knife's edge balance of skill and fear.  To survive requires being in the state of Flow.

"The Flow State is a place where the impossible becomes possible, where time slows down and a perfect moment becomes attainable," Director Max Bervy said    . "This film reveals what it is like to be completely immersed in the present ... completely immersed in the snow, in the mountains, and in the enjoyment of winter."

Read More

Why NFL Combine Results For Jadeveon Clowney And Johnny Manziel Don't Matter

With the Olympics over and the NBA and NHL not yet into playoff mode, the NFL knows its fans need a shot of football in late winter. To prepare us (and the team general managers and coaches) for the NFL Draft in early May, 300 of the best college football players visited Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis last week for the annual NFL Scouting Combine.

While there are specific drills that the players go through for each position, it is the six workout drills, testing strength, agility, jumping and speed, that generate the most TV coverage and conversation.  However, sport science researchers keep putting out study after study that shows that not only are the six tests redundant but that they also have little correlation to actual NFL performance, making them poor predictors for success

Read More

World Class Conditioning Will Be Key To World Cup Success

Jürgen Klinsmann understands what it takes to compete in a World Cup.  With eleven goals for the German national team across the 1990, 1994 and 1998 tournaments, he is still the sixth leading goalscorer in World Cup history. 

As he prepares the U.S. men’s national team for this year’s trip to Brazil, his message of preparation begins with world-class fitness.  Now, a new research review from three sports scientists confirms Klinsmann’s obsession with being in top condition.

Read More

Music That Matches Your Movements Pumps Up Your Workout

If you visit any gym, weight room or running track, you are sure to see the same critical training device being worn by athletes of all ages - a pair of headphones connected to their portable music.  Without it, workouts seem out of sync, longer and more difficult.  

Researchers have told us for years that there is a motivational link between exercise and music, but an interesting new study has now discovered that the connection goes even deeper, especially when an athlete can create his or her own beat.

Read More

Mirror Neurons Help You Avoid Broken Ankles

Across just about every team sport, young defenders are coached how to read an opponent’s body cues to avoid being caught out of position.  Whether in hockey, basketball, soccer or football, if a player can learn to focus on a consistent center point, like the chest, he can take away the offensive attacker’s element of surprise.  As with most skills, this takes time to master, but new research shows that experience does matter.

Watching players develop in practice and games offers a subjective view of their learning curve, but what would put any doubt to rest would be to actually peer inside their brains to monitor their progress.  That’s exactly what sports psychologist Dan Bishop did in his lab at the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University in London.

Read More

Hard Work And No Excuses Sends The Wildcats To AAU Finals

For many parents, sending their kids off to practice for some type of organized sports team is both a mundane and expected part of family life.  It is nice to be reminded that those opportunities aren't always available for a vast majority of aspiring athletes.  Economic challenges, parent commitments or even modes of transportation can keep the next Kyrie Irving or Damian Lillard out of the gym.

Coach Anthony Clary is determined not to let that happen to 11 fourth grade boys in Norfolk, Virginia.  He is the basketball coach for the Wildcats, a talented bunch of 9-year-olds who are headed for the AAU national tournament finals this summer with the motto: Hard Work, No Excuses.


So impressed with this bunch of kids, Coach Clary is creating a documentary film about the team's journey, hoping to inspire other coaches to step up and grab their own team of future stars.  This week, a fundraising campaign was started on Indiegogo to help finish the film.






Recently, I had a chance to interview Coach Clary about the team and this project.



What is your background in coaching?  Were you a player?

Anthony Clary: I have been in the coaching arena for 7 years.  I started as a recreational coach, and I have been an AAU basketball coach for the last 4 years. I also played basketball for four years in high school and in the Air Force before a knee injury cut my playing career short.

How did you become the Wildcats’ coach? 

AC: A friend and I stepped in for the original coach because he was juggling multiple teams and had an out of town obligation. So that’s how I became lucky enough to end up the assistant coach.  One practice turned into two and next thing you know we were coaching the team full time.

What makes this team different than others that you’ve coached?

AC: The passion that these 9-year-olds possess for the game, even though they are in their infancy of understanding it, has blown me away. They are incredibly dedicated to excellence and becoming better players as a team.  I was used to coaching teenagers, so to find this level of dedication in such young men was an amazing surprise.

Are these boys from disadvantaged homes?  What would they be doing with their time if not playing basketball?

AC: About 75% of the boys come from disadvantaged homes. Without basketball, there’s no telling where they would be. Some of them had little interest in school, a few were dealing with discipline issues, and some were hanging with the wrong crowd.  Our involvement as coaches and mentors and the discipline of basketball has been key in turning their lives around. Norfolk, VA is one of the forgotten recession towns. Unemployment is quite high and only about 1 in 4 kids graduate with their class. Being a part of the WILDCATS team, these kids are finding structure and discipline that they may not have gotten anywhere else.

What is the main message you are trying to communicate in the film?

AC: The biggest message is a call to action for adults: Become more involved in the lives of our youth. Mentorship carries more weight than you might think and the little moments that we may take for granted will follow a child for life. But there’s a message for kids, too. No matter where you come from, what hardships you’ve had to face in your life, you can work to make it better. There’s hope.

Can you give us a specific example of how these boys have taught you something about life?

AC: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that patience is really important when dealing with a younger audience. The kids that we deal with often need extra attention because they don’t get a lot of it at home. This often leads to them craving attention while under our guidance. But the lesson goes beyond the court. We could all be a little more patient with our friends, family, and people we care about. It’s all about understanding.

Good luck to the Wildcats and we look forward to seeing the finished film!

Why Kids Need Their Recess Time At School

Ask a group of grade school students to name their favorite class and the overwhelming and immediate response is “recess!”  Kids are not wired to sit still for hours focused on learning math equations or memorizing facts.  They’re built to move and need the time in their day to unplug their brain and restart their legs.  

However, school administrators and teachers are facing growing pressure to reduce this play time in favor of more instruction time to meet tougher academic standards.  Two new research studies argue that would be counterproductive showing that exercise and aerobic fitness are key contributors to cognitive performance.

Read More

From Fighter Pilots To Hockey Players, Cognitive Training Gets Results

“He has great field vision.” “Her court awareness is the difference.” “He seems to have eyes in the back of his head.” Beyond physical talent and technical abilities, some players seem to have this sixth sense of awareness on a court, rink or field that allows them to keep track of their teammates and their opponents so that they can make the perfect pass or step in at the last second to make a defensive stop.  

Coaches often praise and search for this elusive intangible that appears to be a genetic gift but, according to research, is actually a trainable skill.  

Read More