These pre-game preparations are certainly important for warming up the arms and legs, getting the heart rate up and loosening up muscles. But maybe more importantly, this skill repetition also gets the brain ready for the hundreds of actions it will need to perform soon after.Read More
The 80 Percent Mental Blog
Coaches preach it endlessly, “Always finish with the correct follow-through.” In baseball, football, tennis, golf, soccer or any sport requiring a skilled targeting movement, how your throw, swing or kick ends up can determine the ball’s speed and direction. But how can something you do after contact with an object affect its motion? Once a quarterback lets go of the football, the position of his arm after release seems meaningless. New research from the University of Cambridge has found the answer; the development of motor memories.
For most sports skills that require an athlete to propel or hit an object at a target, the follow-through has been emphasized to prevent injury. A baseball pitcher throwing a 90 mph fastball must also decelerate his arm after the release. Without proper mechanics, the wrist, elbow or shoulder could give in to the massive force applied by the motion.Read More
Practice, practice, practice! That’s been the advice to young athletes for years but especially in the last decade as the road to 10,000 hours of deliberate practice became the accepted timeline to sports mastery.
Yet many research papers and anecdotal stories point out the many exceptions on both sides of the equation; kids with amazing skills at a young age, overnight teen sensations who just started playing a sport and twenty-somethings who are still trying to make it to the big time despite 10,000+ hours of practice.
If we could just peer into the brains of these budding superstars to see what’s going on when they learn… oh wait, we can! With the help of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), neuroscience researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (aka “The Neuro), part of McGill University, recently watched the changes in young adults’ brains after they learned a new task. But they also noticed that a different area of the brain could predict how well each of the students would perform when learning something new.Read More
Just about every coach and parent, not to mention most young athletes, have heard the vague but obvious phrase, “practice makes perfect.” Quarterbacks wanting to complete more passes need to throw a lot more balls. Rising basketball players who need to increase their free throw percentage need to shoot hundreds of free throws.
In most cases, repeating a motor skill over and over in slightly different environments and conditions will improve the success rate. If not, we would all still struggle with tying our shoes or riding a bike.
But what is it about practice that helps our brains figure out the specific task while also generalizing enough to transfer the skill to different scenarios? Kicking a football through the uprights of a goal post is slightly different than kicking a soccer ball into a goal but we didn’t have to completely relearn the kicking task when switching between the two sports. Researchers at McGill University took another step forward in understanding how the trial and error of practice teaches our brain to perform these complex sports skills.Read More