Monthly Archives: July 2011

Athletes and Age of Peak Performance Pt. 2

via Axon Sports

In our last post we looked at when athletes in different sports reach their age of peak performance, and at a potential neural basis for athletic decline. The argument for a breakdown in myelin integrity turned out to not ring true, as it doesn’t peak until the late thirties, long after most elite athletes have slipped into irrelevance. Those ages of peak performance, again, are below: * For baseball, a number of studies, using different methods, have pegged peak age between 27-29. (Link) * For Tennis, peak age has been pegged between the early 20′s and 25. (Link) * For basketball, peak age has been found to be at 27 for …

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Athletes and age of peak performance

via Axon Sports

The trajectory of an athlete’s career follows a parabolic arc: a fairly steep rise as the body matures and skills are acquired, a peak, and then a slower, flatter decline as ability fades. But what causes this peak and decline? Obviously it has to do with physical attributes like speed and power, but what about the deep, underlying aspects of performance? The consistency of this rise-peak-decline pattern is striking, even across very different sports. For nearly every major sport, the age of peak performance is in the range of 22-30, and some interesting trends emerge when you look at sport type in relation to an athlete’s peak age. The age at …

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Exercise and cognitive health

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One of the most interesting recent findings in neuroscientific research–and one that might not seem intuitive at first blush–is the tremendous strength of the link between exercise, learning and overall cognitive health. The emerging understanding of the connection between exercise and cognitive health is further confirmation of the larger idea, echoed in recent research around our anatomy and the biomechanics of human movement, that we human beings were designed to move and be athletic. Exercise has been linked to a diverse array of positive effects on our cognitive and emotional health, including lower levels of depression and anxiety and an improved ability to deal with psychological stress. The mechanism behind exercise’s …

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When experts are wrong

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In the same way that exceptions teach a lot about rules, the failures of experts can be as instructive about the nature of expertise as their successes. Here is a great segment from BBC Radio with Dan Gardner, the author of Future Babble, a new book about why experts who make predictions turn out to be so wrong so often. The book focuses on the fallibility of certain types of experts: economists, political experts, journalists and intelligence experts. It turns out that the average expert is only about as accurate as random chance, or, in the words of the author, “a dart-throwing chimpanzee”. Even further, it turns out that the fame …

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Chess and Perception

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The Freakonomics blog had a fantastic post a little ways back about chess Grand Master Gary Kasparov that illuminates a lot about expert performance, and just how automatic it becomes after years of practice.  The researchers were Fernand Gobet and Herbert Simon, and they used Kasparov to examine the nature of expertise: Their subject was Gary Kasparov, chess champion of the world for 15 years (1985-2000). As world champion, he often demonstrated his skill by playing a “simul”: games of chess against several masters and grandmasters simultaneously. Kasparov would have to rotate between games. As soon as Kasparov reached a board, his opponent on that board had to make his or …

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What causes the yips?

via Axon Sports

At the wrap-up of the British Open, it seems a good time to examine one of the more interesting problems at the intersection of psychology, biomechanics and neuroscience: the yips. The yips are a general term for the erosion of a common, and previously easy skill. The most prominent examples typically come from golf, when we see a great player lose the ability to drain two and three foot putts, while the rest of his game remains completely intact. For a long time, it was assumed that the yips were a purely psychological phenomenon, linked to a loss of confidence, over-thinking and anxiety. This explanation matches up with a lot of …

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Rory McIlroy and the quiet brain

via Axon Sports

File this under the category of when life confirms research. Some great quotes about how Rory McIlroy prepared for the US Open, and how his approach toward putting differed from his meltdown at the Masters. Via puttingyips.com: McIlroy stated that he worked with Dave Stockton on his approach to putting and that helped him improve. They didn’t work on changing his stroke, but instead his green reading and putting routine, which means the mental game of putting. “The work that I’ve done with Dave Stockton has been more about how to approach a putt, not focusing on technique so much, more like green reading, your routine, and everything like that,” said …

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Common threads in the history of elite performers

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The relationship between the hard work of thousands of athletes over their early careers and the finished product of elite athletes on a professional field of play is roughly comparable to that of our nationwide system of slaughterhouses and a glossy photo of a steak in something like Gourmet magazine. How do expert, elite athletes become expert and elite? We know generally: hard work, talent, deliberate practice, a certain never-say-die attitude, etc. But what are the more nuanced common threads? Are there more subtle predictors or commonalities lurking beneath the surface? A new research effort, the Pathways to Podiums project, is aiming to capture this more detailed picture of the road …

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Meditation for Athletic Performance

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We’ve looked at the importance of Alpha EEG rhythms before, and the association of higher Alpha levels and success on pressure-intensive, precise activities like free throw shooting, and putting performance in golf. Given this correlation, it seems significant to athletes that a recent study from researchers at Harvard Medical School provides evidence that mindfulness meditation may enhance our ability to control our alpha rhythm levels. Via Medical News Today: The study tested 12 healthy volunteers with no previous experience in meditation. Half completed the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program developed at the University of Massachusetts. The other half were asked not to engage in any type of meditation during the study …

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The fatigued brain

via Axon Sports

One of the most important things that neuroscience research is illuminating is that the traditional mind/body separation is an illusion.  Everything that we are learning about the brain points toward a reality in which the two are more connected than we can imagine.  In fact, recent research around willpower and our ability to resist temptation and perform hard work suggests that mental and physical fatigue may be inseparable. Via Medical News Today: “Cognitive tasks, as well as emotional tasks such as regulating your emotions, can deplete your self-regulatory capacity to exercise,” says Kathleen Martin Ginis, associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, and lead author of the study. Martin Ginis and …

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