Mental rehearsal and visualization has consistently been found to enhance performance in competitive situations, and has been a cornerstone of the pre-competition preparation of elite athletes for years. But recent research indicates that the the brain’s power to imagine and visualize may be underutilized as a tool to enhance and solidify the gains made in training.

Steve Nash And The Imaginary Free Throw

via Axon Sports

Every time Steve Nash goes to the foul line, he shoots five or six free throws. Sure, there’s the two that really count, but the NBA’s all-time free throw percentage leader always takes several imaginary shots before getting the ball.  He says it helps him not only visualize the ball going through the net but also gets his brain and body prepped for the upcoming motor skill.  After almost 3,400 regular season attempts, his 90.4% success rate seems to work, even if Dwight Howard isn’t interested. Actually, this “dry run” motor imagery is a well-used technique across several sports.  Golfers always take the imaginary swing or putt before stepping up to …

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For Youth Athletes, It’s All About The Struggle

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As parents and coaches of youth athletes, we walk a fine line in our communications with our emerging superstars about their abilities.  What may sound like a great pat on the back, (“that was amazing how you just knew to make that pass – you’ve really got a knack for this sport”), may actually limit their future development and motivation, according to two development psychologists. It all goes back to the fundamental debate in talent development of any kind.  Are we born with certain skills and expertise or do we develop it with years of structured practice?  Researchers have argued along the entire spectrum of this question while practitioners have settled …

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The Need For Evidence-Based Coaching In Sports

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It’s something that every coach and every athlete of every sport is searching for… the Edge. That one training tip, equipment improvement, mental preparation or tactical insight that will tip the game towards them. The body of knowledge that exists today in each sport is assumed, with each competitor expected to at least be aware of the history, beliefs and traditions of their individual sport. But, if each team is starting with the same set of information then the team that takes the next step by applying new research and ideas will capture the edge. That is what sports science is all about. The goal is to improve sports performance by …

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Four Proven Models For Teaching Sports

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A look at the four major models of teaching sports skills that agree that technical and tactical skills need to be combined for more effective long-term learning. Each of the four models vary in their treatment of learning along two different dimensions; implicit vs. explicit learning and domain-specific vs. domain-general environments.

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The Synapse – Music, Sleep And A Used Putter

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In this week’s edition of Synapse, we take a look at three new research studies that could boost your budding superstar’s performance by listening to music, taking a nap or even borrowing your favorite PGA golfer’s putter.

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The Synapse – Video Games, Building Blocks and Your Brain’s Dark Energy

via Axon Sports

To get your budding superstar ready for his sports future, should they play with high tech video games or good old building blocks?  Well, according to two new studies, that depends on if you’re training their creativity or their spatial awareness.  Also, in our weekly round-up of brain science news, we find out about our brain’s “default-mode network” which manages our brain’s neurons when trying to focus on an object. For most sports, athletes require the ability to quickly make sense of their surroundings, then to be creative in their reaction to this ever changing environment.  Developing these dual skills often starts in the early years with non-sport activities. Nora Newcombe, …

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Fooling Your Overprotective Brain

via Axon Sports

Of the roughly 45,000 brave souls who will line up for the start of the New York City Marathon in less than two weeks, there’s a good chance that at least a few will have doubts of crossing the finish line.  They have put in the training miles, eaten the right foods and picked out their playlist.  Yet, the biggest obstacle to a finisher’s medal is not their legs, but their brain.  Like an overprotective mother, the brain not only runs the show but also decides when enough is enough.  However, exercise science researchers now believe that it is possible to fool mother nature and tap into a reserve store of …

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The science behind choking

via Axon Sports

Free throw shooting in basketball offers one of the best opportunities to look at the effects of pressure on athletic performance.  Most NBA players can stand around in an empty gym and knock down free throw after free throw.  It’s one of those skills that has been so refined by deliberate practice that it’s basically performed on autopilot.  But it’s a different story to put that same player in a pressure-packed situation, in front of a crowd, with the game on the line.  In research conducted by Art Markman at the University of Texas, it appears that NBA players are more likely to choke in critical, late-game situations: The  highest pressure …

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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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