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Deliberate practice and the unconscious brain

By Axon Sports

The subject of deliberate practice has been discussed a lot here recently, and K Anders Ericssson’s “10,000 hour rule” has become a popular cultural touchstone because of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. But an intriguing recent study by neuroscientists at Northwestern suggests that it might be possible to make the same gains with less actual, working practice time, by supplementing that practice with passive observation while the brain’s subconscious systems does the rest of the learning. The researchers had all of the subjects practice a task 360 times per day for six days, which in this case was an auditory discrimination task where the subjects had to determine whether two similar sounds …

Working memory and the brain’s limits

By Axon Sports

The impact of working memory on sport performance doesn’t get talked about too often, but its importance can’t be underestimated.  Working memory is different from both long and short term memory, it is the ability to hold and juggle things in your head, and the ability shift attention between them as you solve a problem or deal with a situation. Working memory is what allows us to drive a car while we simultaneously monitor our speed, pay attention to the road ahead, talk to the person in the passenger seat, check our rearview mirror every few seconds, etc.  Similarly, it’s also what allows a basketball player to dribble the ball, pay …

We talkin’ about practice: Allen Iverson and visualization

By Axon Sports

Following up on the last post about the power of visualization and the way that purely mental practice can improve physical skills, a fascinating little story about Allen Iverson that might change the way you think about his approach to the game, and his infamous attitude toward practice.  From Larry Platt’s Only the Strong Survive, about Iverson’s use of visualization techniques that he learned from his high school football coach: Kozlowski was a staunch believer in psychocybernetics. He’d preach the value of visualization long before such mental gymnastics were in vogue. He had Allen read the book Psycho-Cybernetics, by Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon who maintained that, even after reconstructive nose …

The power of imagination

By Axon Sports

From Norman Doidge’s, The Brain That Changes Itself, research about the power of imagination, and how training that occurs purely within the confines of a person’s own skull has been demonstrated to be nearly as effective as actual, physical practice (long quote, but trust me, you want to read it): Pascual-Leone taught two groups of people, who had never studied piano, a sequence of notes, showing them which fingers to move and letting them hear the notes as they were played.  Then members of one group, the “mental practice” group, sat in front of an electric piano keyboard, two hours a day, for five days, and imagined both playing the sequence …

US Navy to fund brain training research

By Axon Sports

From a recent press release, the US Office of Naval Research has partnered with a brain training company, Lumos Labs, to study the neuroplastic changes caused by their online cognitive training software: Lumosity, the leader in brain health and performance, today announced it has been selected for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant by the Office of Naval Research, which is responsible for the coordination, execution and promotion of science and technology programs for United States Navy and Marine Corps. The grant is to be dedicated to the development and testing of a mobile application that increases intelligence and cognitive performance – specifically working memory, attention and decision making – …

Soccer and Spatial Reasoning

By Axon Sports

We’re going to go back to David Winner’s book about Dutch Total Football, Brilliant Orange one more time; it’s just too good. There are so many valuable insights about the nature of expertise and athletic intelligence, specifically with respect to Spatial Reasoning, the ability to visualize and manipulate patterns in space over time. One of the book’s main arguments is that soccer is fundamentally about manipulating space on the pitch to create or exploit openings, and that the Total Football style of the 1970′s Dutch teams revolutionized the way this was done. Former Manchester United manager Dave Sexton explains: With their pressing and rotation, the Dutch created space where there wasn’t …

More on soccer decision-making and expertise

By Axon Sports

Friday’s post focused on decision-making and anticipation in soccer, and specifically on how the quick and precise evaluation and elimination of options sets great soccer players apart from good athletes who don’t see the game quite as well. While research is nice, it’s always valuable to hear corroboration of those ideas from the mouths of players and coaches who know the game on a truly deep level. Some of the best writing on athletic genius and the unique ways that experts see the game can be found in David Winner’s fantastic book, Brilliant Orange: The neurotic genius of Dutch football. Winner conducted in-depth interviews with former Dutch players, as well as …

Soccer, Anticipation, and Athletic Intelligence

By Axon Sports

One of the challenges in a free-flowing, fast-paced sport like soccer is knowing not only what to pay attention to, but based on each situation, being able to immediately determine the best course of action.  At any single moment on the pitch, a soccer player with the ball faces an essentially infinite number of possible choices for his/her next move.  Many of these are relevant and reasonable choices–he might pass to a man on his left or right, play the ball back, try to advance the ball himself by dribbling, or take a shot–while many are not (e.g. kick the ball into the stands).  Defensively, this would mean trying to get …

Sleep and athletic performance: are there morning athletes and evening athletes?

By Axon Sports

A brand-new study on sleep and the hitting performance of professional baseball players asks a really important and vastly under-studied question: do athletes who are morning people vs. evening people perform differently depending on the time of day? The new study was recently presented at the Sleep 2011 conference by lead author Dr. W. Christopher Winter, medical director of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va. Via Medical News Today: Results indicate that players who were “morning types” had a higher batting average (.267) than players who were “evening types” (.259) in early games that started before 2 p.m. However, evening types had a higher batting average (.261) …

Athletes and the neuroscience of multi-tasking

By Axon Sports

There is a lot of debate and hand-wringing in the world right now about multi-tasking, and the way that technology and the pace of modern life has fundamentally changed the way that we operate and interact with the world. It’s been said that multi-tasking actually slows down our ability to get things done, that heavy multi-taskers make worse decisions, that the internet is making us stupid, and that even though people now do more multi-tasking, we aren’t getting any better at it. But there is one group of people for whom multi-tasking is nothing new at all: athletes.  One might make the case that sports, especially open-field and free-flowing team sports, …

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