Tag Archives: Research

The Synapse – Brainspotting, Exercise for Migraines, and Learning Motor Skills

via Axon Sports

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Axon Potential, The Synapse, which will be your  connection to the latest Athletic Brain news and research. Brainspotting – A Promising Treatment for Sports Trauma During a game with the Atlanta Braves in 1990, Mets catcther Mackey Sasser was on the receiving end of collision at home plate with a Braves base-runner. Shortly after, he began an peculiar habit of double-clutching on his throws back to the pitcher. He tried traditional physical therapy, psychological counseling and other methods to stop this subconscious habit. He turned to Dr. David Grand who had created a new neurobehavioral treatment he called brainspotting or BSP. As described …

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Neuroplasticity, Divers and the Athletic Brain

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Our last post here centered on neuroplasticity and the way that training creates real, visible changes in the brains of athletes.  We referenced a study of Chinese professional divers, who showed enlargement in certain brain areas associated with learning and processing movement.  Back in March, Wired magazine did a nice story summarizing the research: In a new study published last month in PLoS ONE, a research team led by Jing Luo from the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences compared the brains of elite divers to those who were not involved in intense physical training or professional sport. To offset the chances that differences found deep within the …

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Neuroplasticity and how training changes the structure of the brain

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The more we practice something, the better we get at it; this much is uncontroversial.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth examining. The connection between practicing a skill and then improving because of that practice is a concept that is so natural and intuitive, so well accepted as common knowledge, that we often fail to appreciate the fascinating mechanics behind the process of skill acquisition. On the most basic level, learning a new skill or improving a skill involves changes in the brain.  There are a few different ways that our brains adapt to picking up new skills and changing environmental conditions.  The first involves a rewiring of the networks …

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Do athletes have superior decision-making abilities?

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The idea that athletes might be better at making high-speed decisions that are specific to their sport is an intuitive one, based on what we know about the brain and how it changes with deliberate practice. The last few posts have focused on just how athletes’ brains may change as they acquire expertise, and how it is often difficult to truly measure these differences. A recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine points to some very interesting potential differences in the way that athletes and non-athletes make high-speed decisions. Groups of college students, half of them division I varsity athletes, half of them pulled from …

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Athletes and age of peak performance

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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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What causes the yips?

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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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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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The fatigued brain

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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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Working memory and the brain’s limits

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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 …

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Soccer, Anticipation, and Athletic Intelligence

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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 …

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