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Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

12 Posts tagged with the sport_psychology tag


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As first seen on LiveScience.com
and Sports Are 80 Percent Mental



From the "athletes behaving badly" department (in the past month, anyway):
•    NHL bad boy (Sean Avery) was suspended for six games for a crude remark.
•    Six NFL players were suspended for allegedly violating the league's drug policy.
•    Another NFL player (Adam "Pacman" Jones) returned to his team's roster after being suspended, again, for an off-field altercation.
•    Oh, and NFL receiver (Plaxico Burress) accidentally shot himself in a nightclub with a gun he was not licensed to carry. 

Despite the 24/7 media coverage of each of these incidents, sports fans have become accustomed to and somewhat complacent with hearing about athletes and their deviant acts.
In fact, new statistics reveal that bad behavior is clearly evident among high school athletes, particularly in high-contact sports.

It starts young
Besides the highly publicized stories, there are thousands more across the nation involving amateur athletes taking risks both on and off the field. From performance-enhancing supplements to referee/official abuse to fights, guns and recorded crimes, the image of sports as a positive influence on athletes may need a second look.

Granted, in a population of any size there will be a few bad apples. However, these actions have become so prevalent that academic researchers have created a branch of study called "deviance in sports" attached to the sports sociology tree. 

They are asking questions and challenging some assumptions about cause and effect. Is there a connection between sports participation and deviance? Does the intense competition and battle on the field shape a player's off-the-field lifestyle? Since success in sports brings attention and prestige to athletes, does the risk of losing that status cause a need to take risks to maintain their "top dog" positions?

In their new book, "Deviance and Social Control in Sport," researchers Michael Atkinson and Kevin Young emphasize the confusing environment surrounding athletes. They describe two types of deviance: wanted and unwanted.

Owners, players and fans may know that certain behaviors are literally against the rules but are at the same time appreciated as a sign of doing whatever it takes to win.  Performance-enhancing drugs are not allowed in most sports, but athletes assume they will improve their performance, which helps their team win and keeps fans happy. Fights in hockey will be, according to the rule book, penalized, but this deviance is assumed to be wanted by fans and teammates as a sign of loyalty.

However, related bad behavior can quickly turn on a player to being socially unwanted. 

 

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/seanavery.jpg|height=156|width=200|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/seanavery.jpg|border=0!Abuse of drugs that don't contribute to a win, (marijuana, cocaine, alcohol), will transform that same player into a villain with shock and outrage being reported in the media. In the Sean Avery example, a hockey player fighting to defend his teammates on the ice can then be suspended from the team and criticized by those same teammates for an off-color remark.

Real statistics
Most athletes who make it to the professional level have been involved in sports since youth. Sports sociologists and psychologists often look at the early development years of athletes to get a glimpse of patterns, social norms and influences that contribute to later behaviors.

In a recent American Sociological Review article, Derek Kreager, assistant professor of sociology at Penn State University, challenged the long-held belief that youth sports participation is exclusively beneficial to their moral character development. 

With the focus on teaching teamwork, fair play, and self esteem, sports are often cited as the antidote to delinquency. But Kreager notes that other studies have looked at the culture that surrounds high school and college athletes and identified patterns of clichés, privileges and attitudes of superiority. For some athletes, these patterns are used to justify deviant behavior.

In fact, his most recent research attempted to find a cause-and-effect link between deviant behavior and specific sports. Specifically, he asked if high-contact, physical sports like football and wrestling created athletes who were more prone to violent behavior off the field.

Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, more than 6,000 male students from across 120 schools were included. The data set included a wide collection of socioeconomic information, including school activities, risk behaviors and at-home influences. Kreager's study analyzed the effects of three team sports (football, basketball, and baseball) and two individual sports (wrestling and tennis) on the likelihood of violent off-field behavior, specifically, fighting.

To isolate the effect of each sport, the study included control groups of non-athletes and those that had a history of physical violence prior to playing sports. 

For team sports, football players were 40 percent more likely to be in a confrontation than non-athletes. In individual sports, wrestlers were in fights 45 percent more often, while tennis players were 35 percent less likely to be in an altercation. Basketball and baseball players showed no significant bias either way.

"Sports such as football, basketball, and baseball provide players with a certain status in society," Kreager said. "But football and wrestling are associated with violent behavior because both sports involve some physical domination of the opponent, which is rewarded by the fans, coaches and other players. Players are encouraged to be violent outside the sport because they are rewarded for being violent inside it."

862 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: football, sports_science, sport_psychology, youth_sports, pacman_jones, physics_of_hockey, plaxico_burress, sean_avery, sports_parents, sports_violence

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TheCatch.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TheCatch.jpg|border=0!From: Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

With the crack of the bat, the ball sails deep into the outfield. The center-fielder starts his run back and to the right, trying to keep his eyes on the ball through its flight path. His pace quickens initially, then slows down as the ball approaches. He arrives just in time to make the catch.  What just happened? How did he know where to run and at what speed so that he and the ball intersected at the same exact spot on the field. Why didn't he sprint to the landing spot and then wait for the ball to drop, instead of his controlled speed to arrive just when the ball did? What visual cues did he use to track the ball's flight?  Did Willie Mays make the most famous catch in baseball history because he is one of the greatest players of all-time with years of practice? Maybe, but now take a look at this "Web Gems" highlight video of 12 and 13 year-olds from last year's Little League World Series :

Just like we learned in pitching and hitting, fielding requires extensive mental abilities involving eyes, brain, and body movements to accomplish the task. Some physical skills, such as speed, do play a part in catching, but its the calculations and estimating that our brain has to compute that we often take for granted. The fact that fielders are not perfect in this skill, (there are dropped fly balls, or bad judgments of ball flight), begs the question of how to improve? As we saw with pitching and hitting (and most sports skills), practice does improve performance. But, if we understand what our brains are trying to accomplish, we can hopefully design more productive training routines to use in practice.

Once more, we turn to Mike Stadler , associate professor of psychology at University of Missouri, who provides a great overview of current fielding research in his book, "The Psychology of Baseball".

One organization that does not take this skill for granted is NASA. The interception of a ballistic object in mid-flight can describe a left fielder's job or an anti-missile defense system or how a pilot maneuvers a spacecraft through a three dimensional space. In fact, Michael McBeath , a former post doctoral fellow at the NASA Ames Research Center , (now an associate professor at Arizona State University), has been studying fly ball catching since 1995, beginning with his research study, "[How baseball outfielders determine where to run to catch fly ball | http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/268/5210/569]". 

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/McBeathLOT.jpg|height=200|width=147|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/McBeathLOT.jpg|border=0! His team developed a rocket-science like theory named Linear Optical Trajectory to describe the process that a fielder uses to follow the path of a batted ball. LOT says the fielder will adjust his movement towards the ball so that its trajectory follows a straight line through his field of vision. Rather than compute the landing point of the ball, racing to that spot and waiting, the fielder uses the information provided by the path of the ball to constantly adjust his path so that they intersect at the right time and place.

The LOT theory is an evolution from an earlier theory called Optical Acceleration Cancellation (OAC) that had the same idea but only explained the fielder's tracking behavior in the vertical dimension. In other words, as the ball leaves the bat the fielder watches the ball rise in his field of vision. If he were to stand still and the ball was hit hard enough to land behind him, his eyes would track the ball up and over his head, or at a 90 degree angle. If the ball landed in front of him, he would see the ball rise and fall but his viewing angle may not rise above 45 degrees. LOT and OAC argue that the fielder repositions himself throughout the flight of the ball to keep this viewing angle between 0 and 90 degrees. If its rising too fast, he needs to turn and run backwards. If the viewing angle is low, then the fielder needs to move forward so that the ball doesn't land in front of him. He can't always make to the landing spot in time, but keeping the ball at about a 45 degree angle by moving will help ensure that he gets there in time. While OAC explained balls hit directly at a fielder, LOT helps add the side-to-side dimension, as in our example of above of a ball hit to the right of the fielder.  More recently, McBeath has successfully defended his LOT theory here and here .

The OAC and LOT theories do agree on a fundamental cognitive science debate. There are two theories of how we perceive the world and then react to it. First, the Information Processing (IP) theory likens our brain to a computer in that we have inputs, our senses that gather information about the world, a memory system that stores all of our past experiences and lessons learned, and a "CPU" or main processor that combines our input with our memory and computes the best answer for the given problem. So, IP would say that the fielder sees the fly ball and offers it to the brain as input, the brain then pulls from memory all of the hundreds or thousands of fly ball flight paths that have been experienced, and then computes the best path to the ball's landing point based on what it has "learned" through practice. McBeath's research and observations of fielders has shown that the processing time to accomplish this task would be too great for the player to react.

OAC and LOT subscribe to the alternate theory of human perception, Ecological Psychology (EP) . EP eliminates the call to memory from the processing and argues that the fielder observes the flight path of the ball and can react using the angle monitoring system. This is still up for debate as the IPers would argue "learned facts" like what pitch was thrown, how a certain batter hits those pitches, how the prevailing wind will affect the ball, etc. And, with EP, how can the skill differences between a young ballplayer and an experienced major leaguer be accounted for? What is the point of practice, if the trials and errors are not stored/accessed in memory?

Of course, we haven't mentioned ground balls and their behavior, due to the lack of research out there. The reaction time for a third baseman to snare a hot one-hopper down the line is much shorter. This would also argue in favor of EP, but what other systems are involved?

Arguing about which theory explains a fielder's actions is only productive if we can apply the research to create better drills and practices for our players. The LOT theory seems to be  getting there as an explanation, but there is still debate over EP vs. IP . So many sport skills rely on some of these foundations, that this type of research will continue to be relevant.  As with pitching and hitting, fielding seems to improve with practice.

And then there's the ultimate catch of all-time, that baseball fans have long been buzzing about.  Your reward for getting to the end of this article is this little piece of history...








You were looking for Willie Mays and "The Catch", weren't you?  This ball girl would own the best all-time fielding achievement... if it were real .  But no, just another digital editing marvel.  This was going to be a commercial for Gatorade, then it was put on the shelf.  After it was leaked onto YouTube, the video hoax became a viral hit.  So much so, that Gatorade left it on YouTube and did make a commercial out of it for the 2008 All-Star game.  But, you don't need to tell your Little Leaguers.  Let them dream...</span>

666 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, baseball, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sports_science, vision_and_perception, sport_skills, sport_psychology, youth_sports

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TedWilliams.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TedWilliams.jpg|border=0![Ted Williams | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Williams], arguably the greatest baseball hitter of all-time, once said, "I think without question the hardest single thing to do in sport is to hit a baseball". Williams was the last major league player to hit .400 for an entire season and that was back in 1941, 67 years ago!  In the 2008 Major League Baseball season that just ended, the league batting average for all players was .264, while the strikeout percentage was just under 20%. So, in ten average at-bats, a professional ballplayer, paid millions of dollars per year, gets a hit less than 3 times but fails to even put the ball in play 2 times. So, why is hitting a baseball so difficult? What visual, cognitive and motor skills do we need to make contact with an object moving at 70-100 mph?

In the second of three posts in the Baseball Brains series, we'll take a quick look at some of the theory behind this complicated skill. Once again, we turn to [Professor Mike Stadler | http://honors.missouri.edu/staff/#stadler] and his book "The Psychology of Baseball" for the answers.  First, here's the "Splendid Splinter" in action:







A key concept of pitching and hitting in baseball was summed up long ago by Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn, when he said, “Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” To sync up the swing of the bat with the exact time and location of the ball's arrival is the challenge that each hitter faces.  If the intersection is off by even tenths of a second, the ball will be missed. Just as  pitchers need to manage their targeting, the hitter must master the same two dimensions, horizontal and vertical. The aim of the pitch will affect the horizontal dimension while the speed of the pitch will affect the vertical dimension. The hitter's job is to time the arrival of the pitch based on the estimated speed of the ball while determining where, horizontally, it will cross the plate. The shape of the bat helps the batter in the horizontal space as its length compensates for more error, right to left. However, the narrow 3-4" barrel does not cover alot of vertical ground, forcing the hitter to be more accurate judging the vertical height of a pitch than the horizontal location. So, if a pitcher can vary the speed of his pitches, the hitter will have a harder time judging the vertical distance that the ball will drop as it arrives, and swing either over the top or under the ball.A common coach's tip to hitters is to "keep your eye on the ball" or "watch the ball hit the bat". As Stadler points out, doing both of these things is nearly impossible due to the concept known as "[angular velocity | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angular_velocity]". Imagine you are standing on the side of freeway with cars coming towards you. Off in the distance, you are able to watch the cars approaching your position with relative ease, as they seem to be moving at a slower speed. As the cars come closer and pass about a 45 degree angle and then zoom past your position, they seem to "speed up" and you have to turn your eyes/head quickly to watch them. While the car is going at a constant speed, its angular velocity increases making it difficult to track.



!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/AdairSwing.jpg|height=232|width=420|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/AdairSwing.jpg|border=0!
This same concept applies to the hitter. As the graphic above shows (click to enlarge), the first few feet that a baseball travels when it leaves a pitcher's hand is the most important to the hitter, as the ball can be tracked by the hitter's eyes. As the ball approaches past a 45 degree angle, it is more difficult to "keep your eye on the ball" as your eyes need to shift through many more degrees of movement. Research reported by Stadler shows that hitters cannot watch the entire flight of the ball, so they employ two tactics.

First, they might follow the path of the ball for 70-80% of its flight, but then their eyes can't keep up and they estimate or extrapolate the remaining path and make a guess as to where they need to swing to have the bat meet the ball. In this case, they don't actually "see" the bat hit the ball. Second, they might follow the initial flight of the ball, estimate its path, then shift their eyes to the anticipated point where the ball crosses the plate to, hopefully, see their bat hit the ball. This inability to see the entire flight of the ball to contact point is what gives the pitcher the opportunity to fool the batter with the speed of the pitch. If a hitter is thinking "fast ball", their brain will be biased towards completing the estimated path across the plate at a higher elevation and they will aim their swing there. If the pitcher actually throws a curve or change-up, the speed will be slower and the path of the ball will result in a lower elevation when it crosses the plate, thus fooling the hitter.As in pitching, the eyes and brain determine much of the success for hitters. The same concepts apply to hitting any moving object in sports; tennis, hockey, soccer, etc.  Over time, repeated practice may be the only way to achieve the type of reaction speed that is necessary, but even for athletes who have spent their whole lives swinging a bat, there seems to be human limitation to success.  Tracking a moving object through space also applies to catching a ball, which we'll look at next time.</span>

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With the MLB League Championship Series' beginning this week,  Twenty-six teams are wondering what it takes to reach the "final four" of baseball which leads to the World Series.  The Red Sox, Rays, Phillies and Dodgers understand its not just money and luck.  Over 162 games, it usually comes down to the fundamentals of baseball: pitching, hitting and catching.  That sounds simple enough.  So, why can't everyone execute those skills consistently?  Why do pitchers struggle with their control?  Why do batters strike out?  Why do fielders commit errors?  It turns out Yogi Berra was right when he said, "Baseball is 90% mental, and the other half is physical."  In this three part series, each skill will be broken down into its cognitive sub-tasks and you may be surprised at the complexity that such a simple game requires of our brains.

First up, pitching or even throwing a baseball seems effortless until the pressure is on and the aim goes awry.  Pitching a 3" diameter baseball 60 feet, 6 inches over a target that is 8 inches wide requires an accuracy of 1/2 to 1 degree. Throwing it fast, with the pressure of a game situation makes this task one of the hardest in sports. In addition, a fielder throwing to another fielder from 40, 60 or 150 feet away, sometimes off balance or on the run, tests the brain-body connection for accuracy. So, how do we do it? And how can we learn to do it more consistently?  In his book, The Psychology of Baseball , Mike Stadler , professor of psychology at the University of Missouri,addresses each of these questions.

There are two dimensions to think about when throwing an object at a target: vertical and horizontal. The vertical dimension is a function of the distance of the throw and the effect of gravity on the object. So the thrower's estimate of distance between himself and the target will determine the accuracy of the throw vertically. Basically, if the distance is underestimated, the required strength of the throw will be underestimated and will lose the battle with gravity, resulting in a throw that will be either too low or will bounce before reaching the target. An example of this is a fast ball which is thrown with more velocity, so will reach its target before gravity has a path-changing effect on it. On the other hand, a curve ball or change-up may seem to curve downward, partly because of the spin put on the ball affecting its aerodynamics, but also because these pitches are thrown with less force, allowing gravity to pull the ball down. In the horizontal dimension, the "right-left" accuracy is related to more to the "aim" of the throw and the ability of the thrower to adjust hand-eye coordination along with finger, arm, shoulder angles and the release of the ball to send the ball in the intended direction.So, how do we improve accuracy in both dimensions? Prof. Stadler points out that research shows that skill in the vertical/distance estimating dimension is more genetically determined, while skill horizontally can be better improved with practice. Remember those spatial organization tests that we took that show a set of connected blocks in a certain shape and then show you four more sets of conected blocks? The question is which of the four sets could result from rotating the first set of blocks. Research has shown that athletes that are good at these spatial relations tests are also accurate throwers in the vertical dimension. Why? The thought is that those athletes are better able to judge the movement of objects through space and can better estimate distance in 3D space. Pitchers are able to improve this to an extent as the distance to the target is fixed. A fielder, however, starts his throw from many different positions on the field and has more targets (bases and cut-off men) to choose from, making his learning curve a bit longer.If a throw or pitch is off-target, then what went wrong?  Research has shown that despite all of the combinations of fingers, hand, arm, shoulder and body movements, it seems to all boil down to the timing of the finger release of the ball. In other words, when the pitcher's hand comes forward and the fingers start opening to allow the ball to leave. The timing of this release can vary by hundredths of a second but has significant impact on the accuracy of the throw. But, its also been shown that the throwing action happens so fast, that the brain could not consciously adjust or control that release in real-time. This points to the throwing action being controlled by what psychologists call an automated "motor program" that is created through many repeated practice throws. But, if a "release point" is incorrect, how does a pitcher correct that if they can't do so in real-time? It seems they need to change the embedded program by more practice.Another component of "off-target" pitching or throwing is the psychological side of a player's mental state/attitude. Stadler identifies research that these motor programs can be called up by the brain by current thoughts. There seems to be "good" programs and "bad" programs, meaning the brain has learned how to throw a strike and learned many programs that will not throw a strike. By "seeding" the recall with positive or negative thoughts, the "strike" program may be run, but so to can the "ball" program. So, if a pitcher thinks to himself, "don't walk this guy", he may be subconsciously calling up the "ball" program and it will result in a pitch called as a ball. So, this is why sports pscyhologists stress the need to "think positively", not just for warm and fuzzy feelings, but the brain may be listening and will instruct your body what to do.


So, assuming Josh Beckett of the Red Sox is getting the ball across the plate, will the Rays hit it? That is the topic for next time when we look at hitting an object that is moving at 97 MPH and reaches you in less than half a second.

625 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, baseball, pitching, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, vision_and_perception, sport_skills, sport_psychology, youth_sports, science_in_sports, pitching_tips




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A player can feel it during a game when they hit a game-changing home run or when they go 0 for 4 at the plate.  A team can feel it when they come back from a deficit late in the game or when their lead in the division vanishes.  A fan can feel it as their team "catches fire" or goes "as cold as ice".  And, play-by-play announcers love to talk about it.  We know it as the "Big Mo", the "Hot Hand", and being "In The Zone" while the psychologists call it Psychological Momentum.  But, does it really exist?  Is it just a temporary shift in confidence and mood or does it actually change the outcome of a game or a season?  As expected, there are lots of opinions available.

 

The Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science defines psychological momentum as, "the positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event or series of events that affects either the perceptions of the competitors or, perhaps, the quality of performance and the outcome of the competition. Positive momentum is associated with periods of competition, such as a winning streak, in which everything seems to ‘go right’ for the competitors. In contrast, negative momentum is associated with periods, such as a losing streak, when everything seems to ‘go wrong’."  The interesting phrase in this definition is that Psychological Momentum (PM) "affects either the perceptions of the competitors or, perhaps</b>, the quality of performance and the outcome of the competition."  Most of the analyses on PM focus on the quantitative side to try to prove or disprove PM's affect on individual stats or team wins and losses.

 

Regarding PM in baseball, a Wall St. Journal article looked at last year's MLB playoffs, only to conclude there was no affect on postseason play coming from team momentum at the end of the regular season.  More recently, Another Cubs Blog also looked at momentum into this year's playoffs including opinion from baseball stats guru, Bill James, another PM buster.  For basketball, Thomas Gilovich's 1985 research into streaky, "hot hand" NBA shooting is the foundation for most of today's arguments against the existence of PM, or at least its affect on outcomes.

 

This view that if we can't see it in the numbers, more than would be expected, then PM does not exist may not capture the whole picture.  Lee Crust and Mark Nesti have recommended that researchers look at psychological momentum more from the qualitative side .  Maybe there are more subjective measures of athlete or team confidence that contribute to success that don't show up in individual stats or account for teams wins and losses.  As Jeff Greenwaldput it in his article, Riding the Wave of Momentum , "The reason momentum is so powerful is because of                the heightened sense of confidence it gives us -- the most important                aspect of peak performance. There is a term in sport psychology                known as self-efficacy, which is simply a player's belief in his/her                ability to perform a specific task or shot. Typically, a player’s                success depends on this efficacy. During a momentum shift, self-efficacy                is very high and players have immediate proof their ability matches                the challenge. As stated earlier, they then experience subsequent                increases in energy and motivation, and gain a feeling of control.                In addition, during a positive momentum shift, a player’s self-image                also changes. He/she feels invincible and this takes the "performer                self" to a higher level."

 

There would seem to be three distinct areas of focus for PM; an individual's performance within a game, a team's performance within a game and a team's performance across a series of games.  So, what are the relationships between these three scenarios?  Does one player's scoring streak or key play lift the team's PM, or does a close, hard-fought team win rally the players' morale and confidence for the next game?  Seeing the need for a conceptual framework to cover all of these bases, Jim Taylor and Andrew Demick created their Multidimensional Model of Momentum in Sports , which is still the most widely cited model for PM.  Their definition of PM, "a positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event or series of events that will result in a commensurate shift in performance and competitive outcome", leads to the six key elements to what they call the "momentum chain".

 

First, momentum shifts begin with a "precipitating event", like an interception or fumble recovery in football or a dramatic 3-point shot in basketball.  The effect that this event has on each athlete varies depending on their own perception of the game situation, their self-confidence and level of self-efficacy to control the situation.

 

Second, this event leads to "changes in cognition, physiology, and affect."  Again, depending on the athlete, his or her base confidence will determine how strongly they react to the events, to the point of having physiological changes like tightness and panic in negative situations or a feeling of renewed energy after positive events.

 

Third, a "change in behavior" would come from all of these internal perceptions.  Coaches and fans would be able to see real changes in the style of play from the players as they react to the positive or negative momentum chain.

 

Fourth, the next logical step after behavior changes is to notice a "change in performance."  Taylor and Demick note that momentum is the exception not the norm during a game.  Without the precipitating event, there should not be noticeable momentum shifts.

 

Fifth, for sports with head to head competition, momentum is a two-way street and needs a "contiguous and opposing change for the opponent."  So, if after a goal, the attacking team celebrates some increased PM, but the defending team does not experience an equal negative PM, then the immediate flow of the game should remain the same.  Its only when the balance of momentum shifts from one team to the other.  Levels of experience in athletes has been shown to mitigate the effects of momentum, as veteran players can handle the ups and downs of a game better than novices.

 

Finally, at the end of the chain, if momentum makes it that far, there should be an immediate outcome change.  When the pressure of a precipitating event occurs against a team, the players may begin to get out of their normal, confident flow and start to overanalyze their own performance and skills.  We saw this in Dr. Sian Beilock's research in our article, Putt With Your Brain - Part 2.  As an athlete's skills improve they don't need to consciously focus on them during a game.  But pressure brought on by a negative event can take them out of this "automatic" mode as they start to focus on their mechanics to fix or reverse the problem.  As Patrick Cohn , a sport psychologist, pointed out in a recent USA Today article on momentum,  "You stop playing the game you played to be in that position. And the moment you switch to trying not to screw up, you go from a very offensive mind-set to a very defensive mind-set. If you're focusing too much on the outcome, it's difficult to play freely.  And now they're worried more about the consequences and what's going to happen than what they need to do right now."

 



There is no doubt that we will continue to hear references to momentum swings during games. When you do, you can conduct your own mini experiment and watch the reactions of the players and the teams over the next section of the game to see if that "precipitating event" actually leads to a game-changing moment.



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<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofAppliedSportPsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F10413209408406465&amp;rft.atitle=Amultidimensionalmodelofmomentuminsports&amp;rft.date=1994&amp;rft.volume=6&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=51&amp;rft.epage=70&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F10413209408406465%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=JimTaylor&amp;rft.au=AndrewDemick&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CCognitivePsychology%2CKinesiology">Jim Taylor, Andrew Demick (1994). A multidimensional model of momentum in sports Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 6 (1), 51-70 DOI: 10.1080/10413209408406465 </span>

802 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: basketball, coaching, baseball, motivation, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sport_psychology, science_in_sports, momentum, in_the_zone, hot_hand


!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Torres.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Torres.jpg|border=0!!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/favre.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/favre.jpg|border=0!!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Lance.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Lance.jpg|border=0!
Maybe its the fear of turning 40.  Maybe its the feeling of unfinished business.  Maybe its the fire in the belly that has not quite extinguished.  For retired elite athletes, the itch is always there to make a return after experiencing "life after sport".  For some, it becomes too strong to ignore.  This year has seen the return of at least three champions, Dara Torres, Lance Armstrong and Brett Favre.  As they explain their individual reasons for coming back, some similarities emerge that have more to do with psychological needs than practical needs.  In a recent Miami Herald article , Torres explained her comeback to competitive swimming at age 41, "For me, it's not like I sat around and watched swimming on TV and thought, `Oh, I wish I was still competing'.  It was more gradual. But all of a sudden, something goes off inside you and you start seriously thinking about a comeback.  You'd think the competitive fire would die down with maturity, but I've actually gotten worse.  I wasn't satisfied with silver medals. I hate to lose now more than I did in my 20s. I'm still trying to figure out why.''

 

Drawing inspiration from Torres, Lance Armstrong has decided to make a comeback at age 37 with a declared goal to win his eighth Tour de France.  In a recent Vanity Fair article , he described his rationale, “Look at the Olympics. You have a swimmer like Dara Torres. Even in the 50-meter event http://community.active.com/blogs/sportsare80percentmental/2008/09/26/retirement-rebound-the-return-of-torres-favre-and-armstrong/freestyle, the 41-year-old mother proved you can do it. The woman who won the marathon http://community.active.com/blogs/sportsare80percentmental/2008/09/26/retirement-rebound-the-return-of-torres-favre-and-armstrong/Constantina Tomescu-Dita, of Romania was 38. Older athletes are performing very well. Ask serious sports physiologists and they’ll tell you age is a wives’ tale. Athletes at 30, 35 mentally get tired. They’ve done their sport for 20, 25 years and they’re like, I’ve had enough. But there’s no evidence to support that when you’re 38 you’re any slower than when you were 32."

 

Is it the 40 factor?  Brett Favre, who turns 39 in October, made his well-publicized return to the NFL last month wanting to return so badly that he accepted a trade to the New York Jets so that he could play.  His public and emotional decision to retire in March, only to begin hinting at a comeback in early summer showed the internal struggle he had with stepping away from sports.  You could hear the indecision in his retirement press conference, "I've given everything I possibly can give to this organization, to the game of football, and I don't think I've got anything left to give, and that's it.", Favre said. "I know I can play, but I don't think I want to. And that's really what it comes down to. Fishing for different answers and what ifs and will he come back and things like that, what matters is it's been a great career for me, and it's over. As hard as that is for me to say, it's over. There's only one way for me to play the game, and that's 100 percent. Mike and I had that conversation the other night, and I will wonder if I made the wrong decision. I'm sure on Sundays, I will say I could be doing that, I should be doing that. I'm not going to sit here like other players maybe have said in the past that I won't miss it, because I will. But I just don't think I can give anything else, aside from the three hours on Sundays, and in football you can't do that. It's a total commitment, and up to this point I have been totally committed."  Some observers point to the end of the Packers' 2007-2008 season with a heart-wrenching Favre interception in overtime that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl instead of Green Bay.  Being that close to the pinnacle of his sport must have been confidence that his skills had not diminished and once the fatigue of the past season had passed (by about June), that he was not ready to just ride the tractor in Mississippi for the next 40 years.

 

So, what do the sport psychologists make of these second thoughts?  These three athletes are world famous, but what about the hundreds of professional athletes that have had to make the same decision without all of the front page stories and fanfare?  Why does Chris Chelios, all-star and future Hall of Famer in the NHL, continue to avoid the retirement decision at age 45?  Coaches aren't immune either.  Bobby Bowden of Florida State and Joe Paterno of Penn State have refused to retire to the point of becoming an awkward story for their schools and fans. ''After all the adulation and excitement wear off and elite athletes come face to face with retirement and a more mundane life, they suffer a sense of loss, almost like a death,'' said sport psychologist John F. Murray .  "If you're Lance Armstrong, you realize that what you are is a cyclist, that is your identity, and if you feel you have one or two more titles in you, why let it go? Why not tackle unresolved challenges? Competing at that level provides a high that is hard to match. How can you not be addicted to that?''

 

Beyond the professional ranks, thousands of college and Olympic athletes are left with the realization that they face similar decisions of when to "give up the dream" and move into the more practical world of finishing their education and finding a job.  Their emotional attachment to their sport has developed over years of building an identity linked to their success on the field.  Despite the statistics showing the "funnel effect" of the diminishing number of athletes getting to the "next level", younger athletes continue to believe they are the ones that will make it to the top.  There is also the more emotional issue of unwillingly leaving a sport because of injury or simply not making the team due to diminished skills.  Dr. Murray adds, "When your whole life has been geared toward athletic excellence, the prospects of retirement can be dreadful! This is commonplace at collegiate level where 99 per cent of the athletes do not go on to play their sport professionally. Counseling is a way to prepare athletes for the inevitable loss that occurs after the glory is over and only memories remain. As with any loss, people need effective ways to cope. Going at it all on your own might work for some, but I’ll submit that the vast majority of athletes benefit from early discussion and planning for retirement. There is definitely life after sport."

 

Some colleges and universities, as well as some professional teams, have started to offer formal "retirement planning" for athletes as their formal sport careers wind down.  Life After Sports , a counseling firm started by Adrian McBride, a former college and NFL player, provides services to retiring college athletes to help them emotionally and practically adjust to a post-sports life.  The University of North Carolina has set-up the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes to offer a home for academic research into these issues.

 

Additional academic research is also coming out on athlete retirement including two articles this year (see citations below) from the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.  First, Katie Warriner and David Lavallee of the University of Wales interviewed former elite gymnasts regarding their retirement at a relatively young age from competitive sport.  They found the loss of identity to be the biggest adjustment.   Second, Patricia Lally and Gretchen Kerr looked at how parents cope with their children's "retirement" from sport, as they also go through withdrawl symptoms when the "end of the dream" finally comes and the lifelong ambition for their child's athletic success is over.

 

Who's next up for a retirement rebound?  Just as Lance got inspiration from Torres and maybe Favre, the trend may continue.  The Bulls could use Jordan or Pippen and Roger Clemens is never far away from a phone.  Stay tuned!

 

!http://www.researchblogging.org/public/citation_icons/rb2_mid.png|style=border: 0pt none;|alt=ResearchBlogging.org|src=http://www.researchblogging.org/public/citation_icons/rb2_mid.png!



<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofAppliedSportPsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F10413200801998564&amp;rft.atitle=TheRetirementExperiencesofEliteFemaleGymnasts%3ASelfIdentityandthePhysicalSelf&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=20&amp;rft.issue=3&amp;rft.spage=301&amp;rft.epage=317&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F10413200801998564%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=KatieWarriner&amp;rft.au=DavidLavallee&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology">Katie Warriner, David Lavallee (2008). The Retirement Experiences of Elite Female Gymnasts: Self Identity and the Physical Self Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20 (3), 301-317 DOI: 10.1080/10413200801998564

<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofAppliedSportPsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F10413200701788172&amp;rft.atitle=TheEffectsofAthleteRetirementonParents&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=20&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=42&amp;rft.epage=56&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F10413200701788172%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=PatriciaLally&amp;rft.au=GretchenKerr&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology">Patricia Lally, Gretchen Kerr (2008). The Effects of Athlete Retirement on Parents Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 20 (1), 42-56 DOI: 10.1080/10413200701788172 </span>

723 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: olympics, football, cycling, swimming, tour-de-france, retirement, lance_armstrong, dara_torres, sport_psychology, brett_favre

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfputt.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfputt.jpg|border=0!If there is a poster child sport for our favorite phrase, "[Sports Are 80 Percent Mental | http://blog.80percentmental.com/]", it must be golf.  Maybe its the slow pace of play that gives us plenty of time to think between shots.  Maybe its the "on stage" performance feeling we get when we step up to that first tee in front of our friends (or strangers!)  Maybe its the "high" of an amazing approach shot that lands 3 feet from the cup followed by the "low" of missing the birdie putt.   From any angle, a golf course is the sport psychologist's laboratory to study the mix of emotions, confidence, skill execution and internal cognitive processes that are needed to avoid buying rounds at the 19th hole.  Last time, we looked at some of the recent research on putting mechanics, but, as promised, we now turn to the mental side of putting.  Sian Beilock and her team at the University of Chicago's Human Performance Lab recently released the latest of a string of research studies on sports performance, or more specifically, how not to choke under pressure.  Lucky for us, they chose putting as their sport skill of choice.  This ties in with Dr. Beilock's theory of embodied cognition that we featured in Watching Sports Is Good For Your Brain.

 

An underlying theme to this work is the concept of automaticity , or the ability to carry out sport skills without consciously thinking about them.  Performing below expectations (i.e. choking) starts when we allow our minds to step out of this automatic mode and start thinking about the steps to our putting stroke and all of those "swing thoughts" that come with it ("keep your elbows in", "head down", "straight back").  Our brain over analyzes and second-guesses the motor skills we have learned from hundreds of practice putts.  Previously, we looked at automaticity in other sports.   Of course, a key distinction to the definition of choking is that you are playing "well below expectations".  If you normally shoot par, but now start missing easy putts, then there may be distractions that are taking you out of your normal flow.  Choking implies a temporary and abnormal event.  Automaticity theory would claim that it is these distractions from some perceived pressure to perform that are affecting your game.

 

Most research into sport skill performance divides the world into two groups, novices and experts.  Most sports have their own measures of where the dividing line is between these groups.  Expertise would imply performance results not just experience.  So, a golfer who has been hacking away for 20 years but still can't break 100 would still be put in the "novice" category.  Sport scientists design experiments that compare performance between the groups given some variables, and then hypothesize on the reason for the observed differences.  Beilock, et al have looked at golf putting from several different angles over the years.  Their research builds on itself, so let's review in reverse chronological order.

 

Back in 2001, they began by comparing the two competing theories of choking, distraction theory vs. explicit monitoring theory, and designed a putting experiment to find the better explanation.  Distraction theory explains choking by assuming that the task of putting requires your direct attention and that high pressure situations will cause you to perform dual tasks - focus on your putting but also think about the pressure.  This theory assumes there is no automaticity in skill learning and that we have to focus our attention on the skill every time.  Explicit monitoring theory claims that over time, as we practice a skill to the point of becoming an "expert", we proceduralize the task so that it becomes "automatic".  Then, during a high pressure situation, our brain becomes so concerned about performance that it takes us out of automatic mode and tries to focus on each step of the task.  The research supported the explicit monitoring theory as it was shown that the golf putting task was affected by distractions and pressure for the experts but not the novice putters.

 

So, how do we block out the pressure, so that our automaticity can kick in?  Another 2001 study by Beilock looked at mental imagery during putting.  Using the same explicit monitoring theory, should we try to think positive thoughts, like "this ball is going in the hole" or "I have made this putt many times"?  Also, what happens if a stray negative thought, "don't miss this one!" enters our brain?  Should we try to suppress it and replace it with happy self-talk?  She set up four groups, one receiving positive comments, one receiving negative comments, one receiving negative comments followed by positive comments and one receiving none as a control group.  As expected, the happy people did improve their putting over the course of the trials, while the negative imagery hurt performance.  But, the negative replaced with positive thought group did not show any more improvement over the control group.  So, when faced with a high pressure, stressful situation ripe with the possibilities of choking, try to repeat positive thoughts, but don't worry too much if the occasional doubt creeps in.

 

Our strategy towards putting should also vary depending on our current skill level.  While learning the intricacies of putting, novices should use different methods than experts, according to a 2004 study by Beilock, et al .  Novice golfers need to pay attention to the step by step components of their swing, and they perform better when they do focus on the declarative knowledge required.  Expert golfers, however, have practiced their swing or putt so often that it has become "second nature" to the point that if they are told to focus on the individual components of their swing, they perform poorly.  The experiment asked both novices and expert golfers to first focus on their actual putting stroke by saying the word "straight" when hitting the ball and to notice the alignment of the putter face with the ball.  Next, they were asked to putt while also listening for a certain tone played in the background.  When they heard the tone they were to call it out while putting.  The first scenario, known as "skill-focused", caused the novices to putt more accurately but the experts to struggle.  The second scenario, called "dual-task", distracted the novices enough to affect their putts, while the experts were not bothered and their putting accuracy was better.  Beilock showed that novices need the task focus to succeed while they are learning to putt, while experts have internalized the putting stroke so that even when asked to do two things, the putting stroke can be put on "auto-pilot".

 

Finally, in 2008, Beilock's team added one more twist to this debate.  Does a stress factor even affect a golfer's performance in their mind before they putt?  This time, golfers, divided into the usual novice and expert groups, were asked to first imagine or "image execute" themselves making a putt followed by an actual putt.  The stress factor was to perform one trial under a normal, "take all the time you need" time scenario and then another under a speeded or time-limited scenario.  The novices performed better under the non-hurried scenario in imagining the putt first followed by the actual putt.  The experts, however, actually did better in the hurried scenario and worse in the relaxed setting.  Again, the automaticity factor explains the differences between the groups.

 

The bottom line throughout all of these studies is that if you're learning to play golf, which includes putting, you should focus on your swing/stroke but beware of the distractions which will take away your concentration.  That seems pretty logical, but for those that normally putt very well, if you feel stress to sink that birdie putt, don't try to focus in on the mechanics of your stroke.  Trust the years of experience that has taught your brain the combination of sensorimotor skills of putting.

 

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TyWebb.jpg|style=cursor: pointer; float: left; height: 123px; margin: 0pt 10px 10px 0pt; width: 164px;|alt=|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/TyWebb.jpg|border=0!Just remember the Chevy Chase/Ty Webb philosophy ; "I'm going to give you a little advice. There's a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball....  Nah-na-na-na, Ma-na-na-na...."

 

 

!http://www.researchblogging.org/public/citation_icons/rb2_mid.png|style=border: 0pt none;|alt=ResearchBlogging.org|src=http://www.researchblogging.org/public/citation_icons/rb2_mid.png!</span><span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofExperimentalPsychology%3AGeneral&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1037%2F%2F0096-3445.130.4.701&amp;rft.atitle=Onthefragilityofskilledperformance%3AWhatgovernschokingunderpressure%3F&amp;rft.date=2001&amp;rft.volume=130&amp;rft.issue=4&amp;rft.spage=701&amp;rft.epage=725&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fdoi.apa.org%2Fgetdoi.cfm%3Fdoi%3D10.1037%2F0096-3445.130.4.701&amp;rft.au=SianL.Beilock&amp;rft.au=ThomasH.Carr&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CCognitivePsychology%2CKinesiology">Sian L. Beilock, Thomas H. Carr (2001). On the fragility of skilled performance: What governs choking under pressure? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130 (4), 701-725 DOI: 10.1037//0096-3445.130.4.701

<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofSportandExercisePsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/&amp;rft.atitle=%22Don%27tMiss%21%22TheDebilitatingEffectsofSuppressiveImageryonGolfPuttingPerformance&amp;rft.date=2001&amp;rft.volume=23&amp;rft.issue=3&amp;rft.spage=&amp;rft.epage=&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.humankinetics.com%2FJSEP%2Fviewarticle.cfm%3Fjid%3D6jc24CqQ6na88Frw6rx62r6s6wh42uf66kn8628B6ht23%26aid%3D1102%26site%3D6jc24CqQ6na88Frw6rx62r6s6wh42uf66kn8628B6ht23&amp;rft.au=SianL.Beilock%3BJamesA.Afremow%3BAmyL.Rabe%3BThomasH.Carr&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CCognitivePsychology%2C+Kinesiology">Sian L. Beilock; James A. Afremow; Amy L. Rabe; Thomas H. Carr (2001). "Don't Miss!" The Debilitating Effects of Suppressive Imagery on Golf Putting Performance Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 23 (3)

<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=PsychonomicBulletin%26Review&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/&amp;rft.atitle=Hastedoesnotalwaysmakewaste%3AExpertise%2Cdirectionofattention%2Candspeedversusaccuracyinperformingsensorimotorskills&amp;rft.date=2004&amp;rft.volume=11&amp;rft.issue=2&amp;rft.spage=373&amp;rft.epage=379&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fhpl.uchicago.edu%2FPublications%2Fpapers_reprints%2FPBR2004.pdf&amp;rft.au=BeilockS.L.%3BBertenthalB.I.%3BMcCoyA.M.%3BCarrT.H.&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CCognitivePsychology%2CKinesiology">Beilock S.L.; Bertenthal B.I.; McCoy A.M.; Carr T.H. (2004). Haste does not always make waste: Expertise, direction of attention, and speed versus accuracy in performing sensorimotor skills  Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 11 (2), 373-379

<span style="font-size: 130%;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=TheQuarterlyJournalofExperimentalPsychology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F17470210701625626&amp;rft.atitle=Puttinginthemindversusputtingonthegreen%3AExpertise%2Cperformancetime%2Candthelinkingofimageryandaction&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=61&amp;rft.issue=6&amp;rft.spage=920&amp;rft.epage=932&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F17470210701625626%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=SianBeilock&amp;rft.au=SaraGonso&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CCognitivePsychology%2C+Kinesiology">Sian Beilock, Sara Gonso (2008). Putting in the mind versus putting on the green: Expertise, performance time, and the linking of imagery and action The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61 (6), 920-932 DOI: 10.1080/17470210701625626 </span>

697 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: golf, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sport_psychology, sian_beilock, putting, putt, golf_tips, golf_skills

Inside An Olympian's Brain

Posted by Dan Peterson Aug 25, 2008

!http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYZpzLgQCI/AAAAAAAAAZc/rtpQWpa3TXk/s320-R/phelps.jpg|src=http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYZpzLgQCI/AAAAAAAAAZc/rtpQWpa3TXk/s320-R/phelps.jpg|border=0!!http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYZv_ldbmI/AAAAAAAAAZs/ADQSC1YRVjU/s320-R/may.jpg|src=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYZv_ldbmI/AAAAAAAAAZs/ADQSC1YRVjU/s320-R/may.jpg|border=0!!http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYan3gpoAI/AAAAAAAAAZ8/azuH_ryf_mQ/s320-R/Liukin.jpg|src=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYan3gpoAI/AAAAAAAAAZ8/azuH_ryf_mQ/s320-R/Liukin.jpg|border=0!!http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYZzBUF6yI/AAAAAAAAAZ0/cqTNjX3gV88/s320-R/lindan.jpg|src=http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYZzBUF6yI/AAAAAAAAAZ0/cqTNjX3gV88/s320-R/lindan.jpg|border=0!
Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin, Misty May-Treanor and Lin Dan are four Olympic athletes who have each spent most of their life learning the skills needed to reach the top of their respective sports, swimming, gymnastics, beach volleyball and badminton (you were wondering about Lin, weren't you...) Their physical skills are obvious and amazing to watch. For just a few minutes, instead of being a spectator, try to step inside the heads of each of them and try to imagine what their brains must accomplish when they are competing and how different the mental tasks are for each of their sports.


On a continuum from repetitive motion to reactive motion, these four sports each require a different level of brain signal to muscle movement.  Think of Phelps finishing off one more gold medal race in the last 50 meters.  His brain has one goal; repeat the same stroke cycle as quickly and as efficiently as possible until he touches the wall.  There isn't alot of strategy or novel movement based on his opponent's movements.  Its simply to be the first one to finish.  What is he consciously thinking about during a race?  In his post-race interviews, he says he notices the relative positions of other swimmers, his energy level and the overall effort required to win (and in at least one race, the level of water in his goggles.)  At his level, the concept of automaticity (as discussed in a previous post) has certainly been reached, where he doesn't have to consciously "think" about the components of his stroke.  In fact, research has shown that those who do start analyzing their body movements during competition are prone to errors as they take themselves out of their mental flow.


Moving up the continuum, think about gymnastics. Certainly, the skills to perform a balance beam routine are practiced to the point of fluency, but the skills themselves are not as strictly repetitive as swimming. There are finer points of each movement being judged so gymnasts keep several mental "notes" about the current performance so that they can "remember" to keep their head up or their toes pointed or to gather speed on the dismount. There also is an order of skills or routine that needs to be remembered and activated.


While swimming and gymnastics are battles against yourself and previously rehearsed movements, sports like beach volleyball and badminton require reactionary moves directly based on your opponents' movements. Rather than being "locked-in" to a stroke or practised routine, athletes in direct competition with their opponents must either anticipate or react to be successful.


!http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYi4C58yJI/AAAAAAAAAaE/Pv9HH8UEWWE/s200-R/motor-cortex.jpg|src=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SKYi4C58yJI/AAAAAAAAAaE/Pv9HH8UEWWE/s200-R/motor-cortex.jpg|border=0!So, what is the brain's role in learning each of these varied sets of skills and what commands do our individual neurons control?  Whether we are doing a strictly repetitive movement like a swim stroke or a unique, "on the fly" move like a return of a serve, what instructions are sent from our brain to our muscles?  Do the neurons of the primary motor cortex (where movement is controlled in the brain) send out signals of both what to do and how to do it?

Researchers at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT led by Robert Ajemian designed an experiment to solve this "muscles or movement" question.  They trained adult monkeys to move a video game joystick so that a cursor on a screen would move towards a target.  While the monkeys learned the task, they measured brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the actual movements of the joystick with the firing patterns of neurons.  The researchers then developed a model that allowed them to test hypotheses about the relationship between neuronal activity that they measured in the monkey's motor cortex and the resulting actions.  They concluded that neurons do send both the specific signals to the muscles to make the movement and a goal-oriented instruction set to monitor the success of the movement towards the goal.  Here is a video synopsis of a very similar experiment by Miguel Nicolelis , Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University:

http://www.youtube.com/v/7-cpcoIJbOU&hl=en&fs=1

To back this up, Andrew Schwartz , professor of neurobiology at the McGowan  Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and his team of researchers wanted to isolate the brain signals from the actual muscles and see if the neuron impulses on their own could produce both intent to move and the movement itself.  They taught adult monkeys to feed themselves using a robotic arm while the monkey's own arms were restrained.  Instead, tiny probes the width of a human hair were placed in the monkey's motor cortex to pick up the electrical impulses created by the monkey's neurons.  These signals were then evaluated by software controlling the robotic arm and the resulting movement instructions were carried out.  The monkeys were able to control the arm with their "thoughts" and feed themselves food.  Here is a video sample of the experiment :


"In our research, we've demonstrated a higher level of precision, skill and learning," explained Dr. Schwartz. "The monkey learns by first observing the movement, which activates his brain cells as if he were doing it. It's a lot like sports training, where trainers have athletes first imagine that they are performing the movements they desire."


It seems these "mental maps" of neurons in the motor cortex are the end goal for athletes to achieve the automaticity required to either repeat the same rehearsed motions (like Phelps and Liukin) or to react instantly to a new situation (like May-Treanor and Dan). Luckily, we can just practice our own automaticity of sitting on the couch and watching in a mesemerized state.

 

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<span class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=Neuron&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1016%2Fj.neuron.2008.02.033&amp;rft.atitle=AssessingtheFunctionofMotorCortex%3ASingle-NeuronModelsofHowNeuralResponseIsModulatedbyLimbBiomechanics&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=58&amp;rft.issue=3&amp;rft.spage=414&amp;rft.epage=428&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS0896627308002213&amp;rft.au=RAJEMIAN&amp;rft.au=AGREEN&amp;rft.au=DBULLOCK&amp;rft.au=LSERGIO&amp;rft.au=JKALASKA&amp;rft.au=SGROSSBERG&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CCognitive+Psychology">R AJEMIAN, A GREEN, D BULLOCK, L SERGIO, J KALASKA, S GROSSBERG (2008). Assessing the Function of Motor Cortex: Single-Neuron Models of How Neural Response Is Modulated by Limb Biomechanics Neuron, 58 (3), 414-428 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.02.033 </span>

 

<span class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=Nature&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1038%2Fnature06996&amp;rft.atitle=Corticalcontrolofaprostheticarmforself-feeding&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=453&amp;rft.issue=7198&amp;rft.spage=1098&amp;rft.epage=1101&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nature.com%2Fdoifinder%2F10.1038%2Fnature06996&amp;rft.au=MeelVelliste&amp;rft.au=SagiPerel&amp;rft.au=M.ChanceSpalding&amp;rft.au=AndrewS.Whitford&amp;rft.au=AndrewB.Schwartz&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2COther%2CCognitivePsychology%2C+Kinesiology">Meel Velliste, Sagi Perel, M. Chance Spalding, Andrew S. Whitford, Andrew B. Schwartz (2008). Cortical control of a prosthetic arm for self-feeding Nature, 453 (7198), 1098-1101 DOI: 10.1038/nature06996 </span>

649 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: olympics, coaching, sport_science, sports_cognition, vision_and_perception, sport_psychology

Visit any youth soccer field, baseball diamond, basketball court or football field and you will likely see them:  parents behaving badly.  Take a look at this Good Morning America report:

These are the extremes, but at most games, you can find at least one adult making comments at the referee, shouting at their child, or having a verbal exchange with another parent.  Thankfully, these parents represent only a small percentage of those attending the game.  Does that mean the others don't become upset at something during the game?  Usually not, as there are lots of opportunities to dispute a bad call or observe rough play or react to one of these loud parents.  The difference is in our basic personality psyche, according to Jay Goldstein, a kinesiology doctoral student at the University of Maryland School of Public Health .  His thesis, recently published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology (see reference below), hypothesized that a parent with "control-oriented" personality would react to events at a game more than a parent with an "autonomy-oriented" personality.

 


According to Goldstein, defending our ego is what usually gets us in trouble when we feel insulted or take something personally.  At youth sports games, we transfer this pride to our kids, so if someone threatens their success on the field, we often take it personally.  The control-oriented parent is more likely to react with a verbal or sometimes physical response, while an autonomy-oriented parent is better able to internalize and maintain their emotions.  This "control" vs. "autonomy" comparison has also been seen in research on "road rage", when drivers react violently to another driver's actions.
Goldstein and his team focused their research on suburban Washington soccer parents back in 2004.  They designed a survey for parents to fill out prior to watching a youth soccer game that would help categorize them as control or autonomy-oriented.  Immediately after the game ended, another survey was given to the parents that asked about any incidents during the game that made them angry on a scale of 1, slightly angry, to 7, furious.  They were also asked what action they took when they were angry.  Choices included "did nothing" to more aggressive acts like walking towards the field and/or yelling or confronting either the referee, their own child, or another player/parent.  53% of the 340 parents surveyed reported getting angry at something during the game, while about 40% reported doing something about their anger.
There was a direct and significant correlation between control-oriented parents, as identified in the pre-game survey, and the level of angry actions they took during the game.  Autonomy-oriented parents still got mad, but reported less aggressive reactions.  As Goldstein notes, “Regardless of their personality type, all parents were susceptible to becoming more aggressive as a result of viewing actions on the field as affronts to them or their kids.  However, that being said, it took autonomy-oriented parents longer to get there as compared to the control-oriented parents.”
So, now that we know the rather obvious conclusion that parents who yell at other motorists are also likely to yell at referees, what can we do about it?  Goldstein sees this study as a first step.  He hopes to study a wider cross-section of sports and socio-economic populations.  Many youth sports organizations require parents to sign a pre-season "reminder" code of conduct, but those are often forgotten in the heat of the battle on the field.  Maybe by offering the same type of personality survey prior to the season, the "control-oriented" parents can be offered resources to help them manage their tempers and reactions during a game.  Since referees were the number one source of frustration reported by parents, two solutions are being explored by many organizations; more thorough referee training and quality control while also better training of parents on the rules of the game which often cause the confusion.
Sports contests will always be emotional, from kids' games all the way up to professionals.  Keeping the games in perspective and our reactions positive are tough things to do but when it comes to our kids, it is required.


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Goldstein, J.D., Iso-Ahola, S.E. (2008). Determinants of Parents' Sideline-Rage Emotions and Behaviors at Youth Soccer Games. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 38(6), 1442-1462. DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2008.00355.x</span>

756 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: basketball, coaching, soccer, baseball, relevant_research, sport_psychology, soccer_moms, sideline_rage

!http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SHPW2TXf7bI/AAAAAAAAAXM/Ai7wkX-Ok1s/s320-R/golf.jpg|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SHPW2TXf7bI/AAAAAAAAAXM/Ai7wkX-Ok1s/s320-R/golf.jpg!Here are some quotes we have all heard (or said ourselves) on the golf course or at the ball diamond.

On a good day:

"It was like putting into the Grand Canyon"

"The baseball looked like a beach ball up there today"

On a bad day:

"The hole was as small as a thimble"

"I don't know, it looked like he was throwing marbles"

 

The baseball and the golf hole are the same size every day, so are these comments meaningless or do we really perceive these objects differently depending on the day's performance?  And, does our performance influence our perception or does our perception help our performance?

 

!http://bp3.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SHPWUztPsBI/AAAAAAAAAXE/RdKYh_ozFHQ/s200-R/witt-golfLO.jpg|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp3.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SHPWUztPsBI/AAAAAAAAAXE/RdKYh_ozFHQ/s200-R/witt-golfLO.jpg!Jessica Witt, an assistant professor of psychological science at the University of Virginia has made two attempts at the answer.  First, in a 2005 study, "See the Ball, Hit the Ball", her team studied softball players by designing an experiment that tried to correlate perceived softball size to performance.  She interviewed players immediately after a game and asked them to estimate the size of the softball by picking a circle off of a board that contained several different sizes.  She then found out how that player had done at the plate that day.  As expected, the players that were hitting well chose the larger sized circles to represent the ball size, while the underperforming hitters chose the smaller circles.  The team was not able to answer the question of causality, so they expanded the research to other sports.

 

Fast forward to July, 2008 and Witt and her team have just released a very similar study focused on golf, "[Putting to a bigger hole: Golf performance relates to perceived size | http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/psocpubs/pbr/2008/00000015/00000003/art00013]".  Using the same experiment format, players who had just finished a round of golf were asked to pick out the perceived size of the hole from a collection of holes that varied in diameter by a few centimeters.  Once again, the players who had scored well that day picked the larger holes and vice versa for that day's hackers.  So, the team came to the same conclusion that there is some relationship between perception and performance, but could not figure out the direction of the effect.  Ideally, a player could "imagine" a larger hole and then play better because of that visual cue. 

 

Researchers at Vanderbilt University may have the answer.  In a study, "[The Functional Impact of Mental Imagery on Conscious Perception | http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2008.05.048]", the team led by Joel Pearson, wanted to see what influence our "Mind's Eye" has on our actual perception.  In their experiment, they asked volunteers to imagine simple patterns of vertical or horizontal stripes.  Then, they showed each person a pattern of green horizontal stripes in one eye and red vertical stripes in the other eye.  This would induce what is known as the "binocular rivalry" condition where each image would fight for control of perception and would appear to alternate from one to the other.  In this experiment, however, the subjects reported seeing the image they had first imagined more often.  So, if they had imagined vertical stripes originally, they would report seeing the red vertical stripes predominantly.

 

The team concluded that mental imagery does have an influence over what is later seen.  They also believe that the brain actually processes imagined mental images the same way it handles actual scenes.  "More recently, with advances in human brain imaging, we now know that when you imagine something parts of the visual brain do light up and you see activity there," Pearson says. "So there's more and more evidence suggesting that there is a huge overlap between mental imagery and seeing the same thing. Our work shows that not only are imagery and vision related, but imagery directly influences what we see."

 

So, back to our sports example, if we were able to imagine a large golf hole or a huge baseball, this might affect our actual perception of the real thing and increase our performance.  This link has not been tested, but its a step in the right direction.  Another open question is the effect that our emotions and confidence have on our perceived task.  That hole may look like the Grand Canyon, but the sand trap might look like the Sahara Desert!

 

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<span class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.aulast=Witt&amp;rft.aufirst=J&amp;rft.aumiddle=K&amp;rft.au=J+ Witt&amp;rft.title=PsychonomicBulletin%26Review&amp;rft.atitle=Puttingtoabiggerhole%3Agolfperformancerelatestoperceived+size&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=15&amp;rft.issue=3&amp;rft.spage=581&amp;rft.epage=585&amp;rft.genre=article&amp;rft.id=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ingentaconnect.com%2Fcontent%2Fpsocpubs%2Fpbr%2F2008%2F00000015%2F00000003%2Fart00013&amp;rft.id=info:PMID/18567258">Witt, J.K. (2008). Putting to a bigger hole: golf performance relates to perceived size. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15(3), 581-585.

494 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, golf, baseball, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, vision_and_perception, sport_skills, sport_psychology

 

From:  Sports Are 80 Percent Mental - Winning Gold With Sport Science

Its 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.

 

To me, that is what sport science is all about. The goal is to improve sports

performance by imagining, analyzing, experimenting, testing, documenting and

training new methods to coaches and athletes.

 

You might have seen a great article in the 6/23 edition of USA Today.

We meet Peter Vint, a "sport technologist" in the Performance Technology Division

of the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO, whose job it is to find ways

to win more gold medals. From the article; "The next revolution, Vint says, is breaking

down the last secrets of elite athletes: response time, how they read

the field and other players — everything that goes into the vision,

perception and split-second decision-making of an athlete. 'We've

always looked at that as mysterious, something that's unmeasurable and

innate,' Vint says. 'But we think it can be taught.'"

 

Interestingly, Vint cites another pioneer in evidence-based sports coaching, Oakland

A's general manager, Billy Beane. "We're becoming progressively more

data-driven," Vint says of the center's training efforts. "We are

trying to pursue what Sabermetrics and Billy Beane did for baseball,

identifying factors that can truly influence performance." The radical

concept that Beane created, as documented in the bestseller, ,

is to stop searching for "the edge" in all the same places that

everyone else is looking. Instead, he started from scratch with new

logic about the objectives of the game of baseball itself and built

metrics that gave new insight into the types of players and skill sets

that he should acquire for his team.

 

If sport science is going to thrive and be accepted, it faces the challenge of inertia.

The ideas and techniques that are the product of sport science can also

be captured in the phrase, "evidence based coaching". Just as evidence

based medicine has slowly found its place in the physician's exam room,

the coaching profession is just beginning to trust the research.

Traditionally, "belief based coaching" has been the philosophy favored

in the clubhouse. Training drills, tactical plans, player selection and

player development has been guided by ideas and concepts that have been

handed down from one generation of coaches to the next. Most of these

beliefs are valid and have been proven on the field through many years

of trial and error. Subjecting these beliefs to scientific research may

not produce conclusions any different than what coaching lore tells us.

But, today's coaches and athletes see the competition creeping closer

to them in all aspects, so they are now willing to at least listen to

the scientists. Beane likens it to financial analysis and the stock

market. The assumption is that all information is known by all. But, if

someone can find a ratio or a statistic or make an industry insight

that no one has considered, then they own the competitive advantage; at

least until this new information is made public.

 

It takes time, though, to amass enough data to convince a head coach to

change years of habits for the unknown. Reputations and championships

are on the line, so the changes sometimes need to be implemented

slowly. Vint describes the gradual process of converting U.S. hurdler

Terrence Trammell and his coach to some of his ideas. "The relationship

between the athletes and sports scientist is critical," Vint says. "But

(for some), biomechanics has not yet provided useful enough

suggestions."

 

There still is debate on evidence based coaching vs. belief based coaching.

Robert Robson, sport psychologist and management consultant, stated,

"Sports coaching should absolutely be evidence-based, but any argument that places the

sole source of evidence in the realm of the scientific method is, I

would argue, naive and lacking in an understanding of the philosophical

underpinnings of science."  Looking forward, I will dig a little deeper into this topic in the next week, so

please check back or subscribe to Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.

491 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: olympics, coaching, coaching, moneyball, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sport_psychology, youth_sports, billy_beane, rob_robson

 

From: Sports Are 80 Percent Mental - Single Sport Kids - When To Specialize

So, your grade school son or daughter is a good athlete, playing

multiple sports and having fun at all of them. Then, you hear the usual

warning, either from coaches or other parents; "If you want your

daughter to go anywhere in this sport, then its time to let the other

sports go and commit her full-time to this one." The logic sounds

reasonable. The more time spent on one sport, the better she will be at

that sport, right? Well, when we look at the three pillars of our

Sports Cognition Framework, motor skill competence, decision making ability,

and positive mental state, the question becomes whether any of these would benefit from

playing multiple sports, at least in the early years of an athlete

(ages 3-12)? It seems obvious that specific technical motor skills,

(i.e. soccer free kicks, baseball bunting, basketball free throws) need

plenty of practice and that learning the skill of shooting free throws

will not directly make you a better bunter. On the other end, learning

how to maintain confidence, increase your focus, and manage your

emotions are skills that should easily transfer from one sport to

another. That leaves the development of tactical decision making

ability as the unknown variable. Will a young athlete learn more about

field tactics, positional play and pattern recognition from playing

only their chosen sport or from playing multiple related sports?

 

 

 

 

Researchers at the University of Queensland, Australia

learned from previous studies that for national team caliber players

there is a correlation between the breadth of sport experiences they

had as a child and the level of expertise they now have in a single

sport. In fact, these studies show that there is an inverse relation

between the amount of multi-sport exposure time and the additional

sport-specific training to reach expert status. In plain English, the

athletes that played several different (but related) sports as a child,

were able to reach national "expert" level status faster than those

that focused only one sport in grade school . Bruce Abernethy,

Joseph Baker and Jean Cote designed an experiment to observe and

measure if there was indeed a transfer of pattern recognition ability

between related sports (i.e. team sports based on putting an object in

a goal; hockey, soccer, basketball, etc.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

They recruited two group of athletes; nationally recognized experts in each

of three sports (netball, basketball and field hockey) who had broad

sports experiences as children and experienced but not expert level

players in the same sports whose grade school sports exposure was much

more limited (single sport athletes). (For those unfamiliar with

netball, it is basically basketball with no backboards and few

different rules.) The experiment showed each group a video segment of

an actual game in each of the sports. When the segment ended the groups

were asked to map out the positions and directions of each of the

players on the field, first offense and then defense, as best they

could remember from the video clip. The non-expert players were the

control group, while the expert players were the experimental groups.

First, all players were shown a netball clip and asked to respond.

Second, all were shown a basketball clip and finally the hockey clip.

The expectation of the researchers was that the netball players would

score the highest after watching the netball clip (no surprise there),

but also that the expert players of the other two sports would score

higher than the non-expert players. The reasoning behind their theory

was that since the expert players were exposed to many different sports

as a child, there might be a significant transfer effect between sports

in pattern recognition, and that this extra ability would serve them

well in their chosen sport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results were as predicted. For each sport's test, the experts in that sport scored the

highest, followed by the experts in the other sports, with the

non-experts scoring the poorest in each sport. Their conclusion was

that there was some generic learning of pattern recognition in team

sports that was transferable. The takeaway from this study is that

there is benefit to having kids play multiple sports and that this may

shorten the time and training needed to excel in a single sport in the

future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, go ahead and let your kids play as many

sports as they want. Resist the temptation to "overtrain" in one sport

too soon. Playing several sports certainly will not hurt their future

development and will most likely give them time to find their true

talents and their favorite sport.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abernethy, B., Baker, J., Côté, J. (2005). Transfer of pattern recall skills may

contribute to the development of sport expertise. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(6), 705-718. DOI: 10.1002/acp.1102 

 

 

666 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: coaching, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, vision_and_perception, sport_skills, sport_psychology, decision_theory_in_sports, youth_sports


Dan Peterson

Dan Peterson

Member since: Oct 1, 2007

A Look Inside the Mind of the Athlete - You can find a mix of sport science, cognitive science, coaching and performance stories here as I focus on the "thinking" side of sports. My "home" is at http://blog.80percentmental.com. Thanks for stopping by!

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