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Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

19 Posts tagged with the sport_science tag

!http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SjbZstqaPwI/AAAAAAAAArs/0sO5iNgvIEc/s400/kidsplaying.jpg|src=http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SjbZstqaPwI/AAAAAAAAArs/0sO5iNgvIEc/s400/kidsplaying.jpg|border=0!</div>

As usual, your Mom was right. When she told you to get outside and play, she instinctively knew that would be good for you.

 

Researchers at the University of Exeter have found that kids' natural short bursts of play energy contribute just as much to a healthy lifestyle as longer bouts of organized exercise, such as gym class.

As of 2008, 32 percent of U.S. children were overweight or obese, as measured by their body mass index. While many organized programs have studied this epidemic, the prescription remains the same: less food, more exercise.

 

In fact, a previous study of 133 children found that the physical activity of the obese children over a three-week period was 35 prcent less during school days and 65 percent less on weekends compared to the children who were within accepted healthy weight norms.

 

In the new study, Michelle Stone and Roger Eston of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences measured the activity level of 47 boys aged between 8 and 10 over seven days using an accelerometer strapped to each boy's hip (similar to the one inside your iPhone or Wii controller that senses motion).

The key was to find a model that would record the shortest bursts of energy, sometimes less than 2 seconds. As any boy's parents know, those spurts can happen all afternoon, whether it be chasing the dog, throwing rocks in the lake or climbing a tree.

 

The researchers also measured waist circumference, aerobic fitness and blood pressure of each boy. They found that even though their activity levels came in many short chunks, their health indicators were all in the normal range.

 

Stone explains their conclusion, "Our study suggests that physical activity is associated with health, irrespective of whether it is accumulated in short bursts or long bouts. Previous research has shown that children are more naturally inclined to engage in short bursts of running, jumping and playing with a ball, and do not tend to sustain bouts of exercise lasting five or more minutes. This is especially true for activities that are more vigorous in nature.

 

Their findings are in the April edition of the International Journal of Pediatric Obesity.

 

The researchers admit that more research is needed to measure long-term effects on health.  Establishing activity guidelines for parents and schools will help the kids plan time to move each day.

 

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The National Football League has even started a program called NFL Play 60 that encourages kids to move for at least 60 minutes each day.  "Our players know the importance of staying healthy and it’s important that young fans also understand the value of exercise," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "Play 60 is an important tool in ensuring children get their necessary daily physical activity as recommended by health and fitness experts."

 

So, more recess and less physical education in our schools? Maybe, according to Stone, "If future research backs up our findings, we would do better to encourage young children to do what they do naturally, rather than trying to enforce long exercise sessions on them. This could be a useful way of improving enjoyment and sustainability of healthy physical activity levels in childhood."

 

Please visit my other sports science articles at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental

409 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: fitness, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_science, youth_sports

!http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SixzEns9r0I/AAAAAAAAArc/5r2boO1wF8k/s320/running-man-heart.jpg|src=http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SixzEns9r0I/AAAAAAAAArc/5r2boO1wF8k/s320/running-man-heart.jpg|border=0!
Many people exercise to improve the health of their hearts. Now, researchers have found a link between your heart rate just before and during exercise and your chances of a future heart attack.
Just the thought of exercise raises your heart rate. The new study shows that how much it goes up is related to the odds of you eventually dying of a heart attack.

More than 300,000 people die each year from sudden cardiac arrest in the U.S., often with no known risk factors. Being able to find early warning signs has been the goal of researchers like Professor Xavier Jouven, of the Hopital Européen Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Jouven's team has been examining data from a study of 7,746 French men employed by the Paris Civil Service and given health examinations between 1967-1972, including exercise tests, electrocardiograms and heart rate measurements. Over an average 23-year follow-up, 83 eventually died of heart attacks, also known as sudden cardiac death (SCD).

In 2005, Jouven's team first showed that how a heart behaves before, during and after exercise could predict future problems. The risk of a future heart attack was about four times higher than normal in men whose resting hearts beat faster than 75 beats per minute (bpm) or did not speed up by more than 89 beats during exercise. Likewise, heart attacks were twice as likely in men whose heart rates didn't slow down more than 25 beats in the first minute after exercise stopped.

Just a thought

In the latest study, published last week in the European Heart Journal, the French researchers found another interesting clue in the same data set. Not only was the resting heart rate of each person taken, but also another reading right before they were to start a strenuous exercise bike test. This rate is affected by what they called "mild mental stress." It measures the body's physiological anticipation of exercise .

 

Think of this type of stress as the brain's warning to the body that some difficult, sweaty work is about to begin. It is normal for this rate to be slightly higher than the resting rate, but for some it is significantly higher.

 

The men who had the highest increase in heart rate during this period (increasing by more than 12 beats a minute) had twice the risk of eventual future sudden cardiac death compared to men who had the lowest increase in heart rate (an increase of less than four beats a minute).

 

So, the high-risk heart overreacts to the anticipation of exercise, and then does not respond to the full extent needed during exercise. Afterwards, it does not regulate itself down fast enough.

 

What's going on

Jouven hypothesized that the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the body's internal control governor, must be out of whack.

 

!http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/Six0njRi5kI/AAAAAAAAArk/ETSL44_ynGQ/s400/autonomic_nervous_system.jpg|src=http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/Six0njRi5kI/AAAAAAAAArk/ETSL44_ynGQ/s400/autonomic_nervous_system.jpg|border=0! The ANS has two parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. Joeven suggests we think of the sympathetic system as the accelerator that turns up our response to exercise by increasing our heart rate. Putting the brakes on this acceleration are the vagus nerves, part of the parasympathetic system, preventing our heart from running out of control.

 

"There is a balance between the accelerator (sympathetic activation) and the brake (vagus nerve activation)," Jouven explains. "During an ischemic episode, when blood flow to the heart is reduced, sympathetic activation occurs to counteract it. However, if there is no protection by the vagal tone (the brake), the activation can become uncontrolled and then it becomes dangerous."

 

Finding this connection between heart rate and future heart problems is encouraging for future research, according to Jouven.

 

"These findings may carry significant clinical implications," he said. "Few measurements in medicine are as inexpensive and as easy to obtain in large general populations as to measure the heart rate difference between resting and being ready to perform an exercise test. The results will contribute towards a better understanding of the mechanisms of cardiac death."

 

Please visit my other sports science articles at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental .</b>

343 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: running, fitness, sport_science, sports_science, sports_medicine

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballflight.jpg|height=312|width=420|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballflight.jpg|border=0!





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


 




When it comes to improving your golf game, you can spend thousands of dollars buying the latest titanium-induced, Tiger-promoted golf clubs; taking private lessons from the local "I used to be on the Tour" pro; or trying every slice-correcting, swing-speed-estimating, GPS-distance-guessing gadget. But, in the end, it’s about getting that little white sphere to go where you intended it to go. Don't worry, there are many very smart people trying to help you by designing the ultimate golf ball. Of course, they are also after a slice of this billion dollar industry, as any technological advancement that can grab a few more market share points is worth the investment.




In fact, the golf ball wars can get nasty. Earlier this month, Callaway Golf won a court order permanently halting sales of the industry's leading ball, Titleist's Pro V1, arguing patent infringements involving its solid core technology which Callaway acquired when it bought Spaulding/Top Flite in 2003. Titleist disagrees with the decision and will appeal, but in the meantime has altered its manufacturing process so that the patents in question are not used.






The challenge for golf ball manufacturers is to design a better performing ball within the constraints set by United States Golf Association. The USGA enforces limits on the size, weight and initial performance characteristics in an attempt to keep the playing field somewhat level. Every "sanctioned" golf ball must weigh less than 1.62 ounces with a diameter smaller than 1.68 inches. It also must have a similar initial velocity when hit with a metal striker, and rebound at the same angle and speed when hit against a metal block. So, what is left to tinker with? Manufacturers have focused on the internal materials in the ball and its cover design.






Today's balls have 2, 3 or 4 layers of different internal polymer materials to be able to respond differently when hit with a driver versus, say, a wedge. When hit with a driver at much higher swing speed, the energy transfer goes all the way to the core by compressing ball, reducing backspin. During a slower swing with a club that has more angle loft, the energy stays closer to the surface of the ball and allows the grooves of the club to grab onto the ball's cover producing more spin. When driving the ball off of the tee, the preference is more distance and less loft, so a lower backspin is required. For closer shots, more backspin and control are needed.






The Science of Dimples



!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballairflow.jpg|height=200|width=169|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/golfballairflow.jpg|border=0!Which brings us to the cover of the ball and all of the design possibilities. Two forces affect the flight and distance of flying spheres, gravity and aerodynamics. Eventually, gravity wins once the momentum of the ball is slowed by the aerodynamic drag. Since all golf clubs have some angular loft to their clubface, the struck ball will have backspin. As explained by the Magnus Force effect, the air pressure will be lower on the top of the ball since that side is moving slower relative to the air around it. This creates lift as the ball will go in the direction of the lower air pressure. Counteracting this lift is the friction or drag the ball experiences while flying through the air.

Think about a boat moving through water. At the front of the boat, the water moves smoothly around the sides of the boat, but eventually separates from the boat on the back side. This leaves behind a turbulent wake where the water is agitated and creates a lower pressure area. The larger the wake, the more drag is created. A ball in flight has the same properties.


The secret then is how to reduce this wake behind the ball. Enter the infamous golf ball dimples. Dimples on a golf ball create a thin turbulent boundary layer of air molecules that sticks to the ball's contour longer than on a smooth ball. This allows the flowing air to follow the ball's surface farther around the back of the ball, which decreases the size of the wake. In fact, research has shown that a dimpled ball travels about twice as far as a smooth ball.










So, the design competition comes down to perfecting the dimple, since not all dimples are created equal! The number, size and shape can have a dramatic impact on performance. Typically, today's balls have 300-500 spherically shaped dimples, each with a depth of about .010 inch. However, varying just the depth by .001 inch can have dramatic effects on the ball's flight.




Regarding shape, these traditional round dimple patterns cover up to 86 percent of the surface of the golf ball. To create better coverage, Callaway Golf's HX ball uses hexagon shaped dimples that can create a denser lattice of dimples leaving fewer flat spots. Creating just the right design has traditionally been a trial-and-error process of creating a prototype then testing in a wind tunnel. This time-consuming process does not allow for the extreme fine-tuning of the variables.






Simulation Solution




At the 61st Meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics this week in San Antonio, a team of researchers from Arizona State University and the University of Maryland is reporting new findings that may soon give golf ball manufacturers a more efficient method of testing their designs. Their research takes a different approach, using mathematical equations that model the physics of a golf ball in flight. ASU's Clinton Smith, a Ph.D. student and his advisor Kyle Squires collaborated with Nikolaos Beratlis and Elias Balaras at the University of Maryland and Masaya Tsunoda of Sumitomo Rubber Industries, Ltd. The team has been developing highly efficient algorithms and software to solve these equations on parallel supercomputers, which can reduce the simulation time from years to hours.




Now that the model and process is in place, the next step is to begin the quest for the ultimate dimple. In the meantime, when someone asks you, "What's your handicap?" you can confidently tell them, "Well, my golf ball's design does not optimize its drag coefficient which results in a lower loft and spin rate from its poor aerodynamics."

Related Articles on Sports Are 80 Percent Mental:

Putt With Your Brain - Part 2 

Putt With Your Brain - Part 1 

Does Practice Make Perfect? 

Play Better Golf By Playing Bigger Holes</div>

972 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: golf, tiger_woods, sport_science, callaway, golf_ball_dimples, livescience.com, magnus_force, titleist


!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/BrandonSutterhit|height=256|width=420|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/BrandonSutterhit|border=0!


http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601As first seen on LiveScience.com and Sports Are 80 Percent Mental 

One painful lesson every National Hockey League rookie learns is to keep your head up when skating through the neutral zone. If you don't, you will not see the 4700 joules of kinetic energy skating at you with bad intentions.


During an October 25th game, Brandon Sutter, rookie center for the Carolina Hurricanes, never saw Doug Weight, veteran center of the New York Islanders, sizing him up for a hit that resulted in a concussion and an overnight stay in the hospital.  Hockey purists will say that it was a "clean hit" and Weight was not penalized.










Six days before that incident, the Phoenix Coyotes' Kurt Sauer smashed Andrei Kostitsyn of the Montreal Canadiens into the sideboards. Kostitsyn had to be stretchered off of the ice and missed two weeks of games with his concussion. Sauer skated away unhurt and unpenalized. [See video here | http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc_Mk9fSI8c].

Big hits have always been part of hockey, but the price paid in injuries is on the rise. According to data released last month at the National Academy of Neuropsychology's Sports Concussion Symposium in New York, 759 NHL players have been diagnosed with a concussion since 1997. For the ten seasons studied, that works out to about 76 players per season and 31 concussions per 1,000 hockey games. During the 2006-07 season, that resulted in 760 games missed by those injured players, an increase of 41% from 2005-06. Researchers have found two reasons for the jump in severity, the physics of motion and the ever-expanding hockey player.



http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601In his book, The Physics of Hockey, Alain Haché, professor of physics at Canada's University of Moncton, aligns the concepts of energy, momentum and the force of impact to explain the power of mid-ice and board collisions.


As a player skates from a stop to full speed, his mass accelerates at an increasing velocity. The work his muscles contribute is transferred into kinetic energy which can and will be transferred or dissipated when the player stops, either through heat from the friction of his skates on the ice, or through a transfer of energy to whatever he collides with, either the boards or another player.



The formula for kinetic energy, K = (1/2)mass x velocity, represents the greater impact that a skater's speed (velocity) has on the energy produced. It is this speed that makes hockey a more dangerous sport than other contact sports, like football, where average player sizes are larger but they are moving at slower speeds (an average of 23 mph for hockey players in full stride compared to about 16 mph for an average running back in the open field).



http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601So, when two players collide, where does all of that kinetic energy go? First, let's look at two billiard balls, with the exact same mass, shape and rigid structure. When two balls collide on the table, we can ignore the mass variable and just look at velocity. If the ball in motion hits another ball that is stationary, then the ball at rest will receive more kinetic energy from the moving ball so that the total energy is conserved. This will send the stationary ball rolling across the table while the first ball almost comes to a stop as it has transferred almost all of its stored energy.


Unfortunately, when human bodies collide, they don't just bounce off of each other. This "inelastic" collision results in the transfer of kinetic energy being absorbed by bones, tissues and organs. The player with the least stored energy will suffer the most damage from the hit, especially if that player has less "body cushion" to absorb the impact.



To calculate your own real world energy loss scenario, visit the Exploratorium's ["Science of Hockey" calculator | http://www.exploratorium.edu/hockey/checking2.html]. For both Sutter and Kostitsyn, they received checks from players who outweighed them by 20 pounds and were skating faster.



http://draft.blogger.com/post-create.g?blogID=5873119327808729601The average mass and acceleration variables are also growing as today's NHL players are getting bigger and faster. In a [study | http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/nrc/apnm/2008/00000033/00000004/art00014] released in September, Art Quinney and colleagues at the University of Alberta tracked the physiological changes of a single NHL team over 26 years, representing 703 players. Not surprisingly, they found that defensemen are now taller and heavier with higher aerobic capacity while forwards were younger and faster. Goaltenders were actually smaller with less body mass but had better flexibility. However, the increase in physical size and fitness did not correspond with team success on the ice. But the checks sure hurt a lot more now.

626 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: hockey, concussion, sport_science, sports_cognition, sports_science, sport_skills, hockey_physics

!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>

645 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>

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

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/RedSoxlogo.jpg|alt= |src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/RedSoxlogo.jpg|mce_src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/RedSoxlogo.jpg!!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Rayslogo.jpg|alt= |src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Rayslogo.jpg|mce_src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Rayslogo.jpg!!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Phillieslogo.jpg|alt= |src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Phillieslogo.jpg|mce_src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Phillieslogo.jpg!!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Dodgerslogo.jpg|alt= |src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Dodgerslogo.jpg|mce_src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Dodgerslogo.jpg!


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.

607 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

!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>

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

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Tigerputting.jpg|height=200|width=139|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/Tigerputting.jpg|border=0!If Mark Twain thinks golf is "a good walk spoiled", then putting must be a brief pause to make you reconsider ever walking again.  With about 50% of our score being determined on the green, we are constantly in search of the "secret" to getting the little white ball to disappear into the cup.  Lucky for us, there is no shortage of really smart people also looking for the answer.  The first 8 months of 2008 have been no exception, with a golf cart full of research papers on just the topic of putting.  Is the secret in the mechanics of the putt stroke or maybe the cognitive set-up to the putt or even the golfer's psyche when stepping up to the ball?  This first post will focus on the mechanical side and then we'll follow-up next time with a look inside the golfer's mind.

 

Let's start with a tip that most golf instructors would give, "Keep your head still when you putt".  Jack Nicklaus said it in 1974, "the premier technical cause of missed putts is head movement" (from "Golf My Way") and Tiger Woods said it in 2001, "Every good putter keeps the head absolutely still from start to finish" (from "How I Play Golf").  Who would argue with the two greatest golfers of all time?  His name is Professor Timothy Lee , from McMaster University, and he wanted to test that observation.  So, he gathered two groups of golfers, amateurs with handicaps of 12-40, and professionals with scratch handicaps.  Using an infrared tracking system, his team tracked the motion of the putter head and the golfer's head during sixty putts.

 

As predicted, the amateurs' head moved back in unison with their putter head, something Lee calls an "allocentric" movement, which agrees with the advice that novice golfers move their head.  However, the expert golfers did not keep their head still, but rather moved their heads slightly in the opposite direction of the putter head.  On the backswing, the golfer's head moved slightly forward; on the forward stroke, the head moved slightly backward.  This "egocentric" movement may be the more natural response to maintain a centered, balanced stance throughout the stroke.  "The exact reasons for the opposite coordination patterns are not entirely clear," explains Lee. "However, we suspect that the duffers tend to just sway their body with the motions of the putter. In contrast, the good golfers probably are trying to maintain a stable, central body position by counteracting the destabilization caused by the putter backswing with a forward motion of the head. The direction of head motion is then reversed when the putter moves forward to strike the ball."  Does that mean that pro golfers like Tiger are not keeping their heads still?  No, just that you may not <b>have</b> to keep your head perfectly still to putt effectively.

 

So, what if you do have the bad habit of moving your head?  Just teach yourself to change your putting motion and you will be cutting strokes off of your score, right?  Well, not so fast.  Simon Jenkins of Leeds Metropolitan University tested  15 members of the PGA European Tour to see if they could break old physical habits during putting.  His team found that players who usually use shoulder movement in their putting action were not able to change their ways even when instructed to use a different motion.  Old habits die hard.

 

Let's say you do keep your head still (nice job!), but you still 3-putt most greens?  What's the next step on the road to birdie putts?  Of the three main components of a putt, (angle of the face of the putter head on contact, putting stroke path and the impact point on the putter), which has the greatest effect on success?  Back in February, Jon Karlsen of the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences in Oslo, asked 71 elite golfers (mean handicap of 1.8) to make a total of 1301 putts (why not just 1300?) from about 12 feet to find out.  His results showed that face angle was the most important (80%), followed by putter path (17%) and impact point (3%).

 

OK, forget the moving head thing and work on your putter blade angle at contact and you will be taking honors at every tee.  Wait, Jon Karlsen came back in July with an update .  This time he compared green reading, putting technique and green surface inconsistencies to see which of those variables we should discuss with our golf pro.  Forty-three expert golfers putted 50 times from varying distances.  Results showed that green reading (60%) was the most dominant factor for success with technique (34%) and green inconsistency (6%) trailing significantly.

 

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/breakmaster.jpg|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/breakmaster.jpg|border=0!So, after reading all of this, all you really need is something like the BreakMaster, which will help you read the breaks and the slope to the hole!  Then, keep the putter blade square to the ball and don't move your head, at least not in an allocentric way, that is if you can break your bad habit of doing it.  No problem, right?  Well, next time we'll talk about your brain's attitude towards putting and all the ways your putt could go wrong before you even hit it!

 

!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 class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofMotorBehavior&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.3200%2FJMBR.40.4.267-272&amp;rft.atitle=Head%E2%80%93PutterCoordinationPatternsinExpertandLessSkilledGolfers&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=40&amp;rft.issue=4&amp;rft.spage=267&amp;rft.epage=272&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fheldref.metapress.com%2Fopenurl.asp%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26id%3Ddoi%3A10.3200%2FJMBR.40.4.267-272&amp;rft.au=TimothyD.Lee&amp;rft.au=TadaoIshikura&amp;rft.au=StefanKegel&amp;rft.au=DaveGonzalez&amp;rft.au=StevenPassmore&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CNeuroscience%2CCognitivePsychology%2CCognitiveNeuroscience%2C+Kinesiology"  style="font-size:130%;">Timothy D. Lee, Tadao Ishikura, Stefan Kegel, Dave Gonzalez, Steven Passmore (2008). Head–Putter Coordination Patterns in Expert and Less Skilled Golfers Journal of Motor Behavior, 40 (4), 267-272 DOI: 10.3200/JMBR.40.4.267-272

<span class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=InternationalJournalofSportsScience&amp;Coaching&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/&amp;rft.atitle=CanEliteTournamentProfessionalGolfersPreventHabitualActionsinTheirPuttingActions%3F&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=3&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=117&amp;rft.epage=127&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ingentaconnect.com%2Fcontent%2Fmscp%2Fijssc%2F2008%2F00000003%2FA00101s1%2Fart00018&amp;rft.au=Jenkins%2CSimon&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CKinesiology%2CCognitive+Psychology"  style="font-size:130%;">Jenkins, Simon (2008). Can Elite Tournament Professional Golfers Prevent Habitual Actions in Their Putting Actions?  International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 3 (1), 117-127

<span class="Z3988" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofSportsSciences&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1080%2F02640410701530902&amp;rft.atitle=Thestrokehasonlyaminorinfluenceondirectionconsistencyingolfputtingamongeliteplayers&amp;rft.date=2007&amp;rft.volume=26&amp;rft.issue=3&amp;rft.spage=243&amp;rft.epage=250&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.informaworld.com%2Fopenurl%3Fgenre%3Darticle%26doi%3D10.1080%2F02640410701530902%26magic%3Dcrossref%7C%7CD404A21C5BB053405B1A640AFFD44AE3&amp;rft.au=JonKarlsen&amp;rft.au=GeraldSmith&amp;rft.au=JohnnyNilsson&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CKinesiology%2CCognitive+Psychology"  style="font-size:130%;">Jon Karlsen, Gerald Smith, Johnny Nilsson (2007). The stroke has only a minor influence on direction consistency in golf putting among elite players Journal of Sports Sciences, 26 (3), 243-250 DOI: 10.1080/02640410701530902 </span>

561 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: golf, tiger_woods, sport_science, science_in_sports, putting, jack_nicklaus

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/coffee.jpg|style=cursor: pointer; float: left; height: 151px; margin: 0pt 10px 10px 0pt; width: 126px;|alt=|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/coffee.jpg|border=0!For an athlete, it seems to good to be true.  A "sports supplement" that increases alertness, concentration, reaction time and focus while decreasing muscle fatigue or at least the perception of fatigue.  It can even shorten recovery time after a game.  HGH? EPO? Steroids?   Nope, just a grande cup of Juan Valdez's Best, Liquid Lightning, Morning Mud, Wakey Juice, Mojo, Java, aka coffee.  Actually, the key ingredient is caffeine which has been studied repeatedly for its ergogenic (performance-enhancing) benefits in sports, both mentally and physically.  Time after time, caffeine proves itself as a relatively safe, legal and inexpensive boost to an athlete.

 

 

 

Or does it?  If caffeine is such a clear cut performance enhancing supplement, why did the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who also monitors this month's Beijing Olympics for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), first add caffeine to its banned substance list, only to remove it in 2004?   At the time that it was placed on the banned list, the threshold for a positive caffeine test was set to a post-exercise urinary caffeine concentration of 12 µg/ml (about 3-4 cups of strong coffee).   However, more recent research has shown that caffeine has ergogenic effects at levels as low as the equivalent of 1-2 cups of coffee.  So, it was hard for WADA to know where to draw the line between athletes just having a few morning cups of coffee/tea or maybe some chocolate bars and athletes that were intentionally consuming caffeine to increase their performance level.  However, caffeine is still on the WADA monitoring list as a substance to screen for and watch for patterns of use.

 

Meanwhile, athletes are still convinced that caffeine helps them.  In a recent survey from Liverpool John Moores University , 480 athletes were interviewed about their caffeine use.  One third of track and field athletes and 60% of cyclists reported using caffeine specifically to give them a boost in competition.  In addition, elite-level athletes interviewed were more likely to rely on caffeine than amateurs.  Dr. Neil Chester , co-leader of the study, commented about the confusion created by the WADA status change for caffeine, "There's been a lack of communication from WADA and there is a question about whether or not sporting authorities are condoning its use. Ultimately there is a need to clarify the use of caffeine within the present anti-doping legislation."

 

So, have athletes found a loophole to exploit that gives them an edge?  Dr. Carrie Ruxton recently completed a literature survey to summarize 41 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials published over the past 15 years to establish what range of caffeine consumption would maximize benefits and minimize risk for cognitive function, mood, physical performance and hydration.  The studies were divided into two categories, those that looked at the cognitive effects and those that looked at physical performance effects.  The results concluded that there was a significant improvement in cognitive functions like attention, reaction time and mental processing as well as physical benefits described as increased "time to exhaustion" and decreased "perception of fatigue" in cycling and running tests.  Longer, endurance type exercise showed greater results than short-term needs for energy.

 

Given these results, how exactly does caffeine perform these wonderful tricks?  Dr. Ruxton explains from the study, "Caffeine is believed to impact on mood and performance by inhibiting the binding of both adenosine and benzodiazepine receptor ligands to brain membranes.  As these neurotransmitters are known to slow down brain activity, a blockade of their receptors lessens this effect. "  Bottom line, the chemicals in your brain that would cause you to feel tired are blocked, giving you a feeling of ongoing alertness.  Your body still needs the sleep, caffeine just delays the feeling of being tired.

 

As to the physiological benefits, caffeine has also been shown to stimulate the release of fat into the bloodstream.  The early conclusion was that the increased free fatty acids in the blood would allow our muscles to use fat as fuel and spare glycogen (carbohydrates) allowing us to exercise longer.  Another theory is that caffeine stimulates the central nervous system reducing our perception of effort so that we feel that we can continue at an increased pace for longer periods.The discussion on glycogen has recently taken another interesting twist; caffeine's apparent ability to replenish glycogen (the body's primary fuel source) more rapidly after an intense workout.  A team at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research has found that athletes who consumed a combination of carbohydrates and caffeine following an exhaustive exercise had 66% more glycogen in their muscles four hours later, compared to when they consumed carbohydrates alone.  They asked cyclists to pedal to exhaustion in the lab, then gave them a drink that contained either carbohydrates with caffeine or just carbohydrates (the cyclists did not know which drink they were getting).  They repeated the process 7-10 days later and reversed the groups.  Muscle biopsies and blood samples were tested for levels of glycogen after each trial period.  The researchers did not have an explanation for the increased levels of glycogen resulting from the caffeine-spiked juice.  One theory is the higher circulating blood glucose and plasma insulin levels caused by the caffeine were key factors.  In addition, caffeine may increase the activity of several signaling enzymes, including the calcium-dependent protein kinase and protein kinase B (also called Akt), which have roles in muscle glucose uptake during and after exercise.

 

So, before you start drinking the Starbucks by the gallon, here are some guidelines.  You can consume 2-2.5 mg of caffeine per pound of body weight daily to achieve its ergogenic effects.  This equates to 250-312 mg for a 125-pound woman and 360-450 mg for a 180-pound man.  More is not better, as other research has shown a decline in benefit and an increase in caffeine's side effects beyond this level.  One "grande" cup (16 oz.) of Starbucks coffee contains about 320-500 mg of caffeine, while a 12 oz. can of soda will provide 35-70 mg of caffeine.  Maybe we'll see the ultimate sports drink soon, kind of like Monster meets Gatorade... wait, its already here: Lucozade Sport with Caffeine Boost!

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<span title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=NutritionBulletin&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1111%2Fj.1467-3010.2007.00665.x&amp;rft.atitle=Theimpactofcaffeineonmood%2Ccognitivefunction%2Cperformanceandhydration%3Aareviewofbenefitsandrisks&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=33&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=15&amp;rft.epage=25&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.blackwell-synergy.com%2Fdoi%2Fabs%2F10.1111%2Fj.1467-3010.2007.00665.x&amp;rft.au=C.H.S.Ruxton&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Biology%2CPsychology%2CCognitivePsychology%2CNeuroscience">

 

C. H. S. Ruxton (2008). The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: a review of benefits and risks Nutrition Bulletin, 33 (1), 15-25 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00665.x

<span title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=InternationalJournalofSportsMedicine&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1055%2Fs-2007-989231&amp;rft.atitle=CaffeineConsumptionAmongstBritishAthletesFollowingChangestothe2004WADAProhibitedList&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=29&amp;rft.issue=6&amp;rft.spage=524&amp;rft.epage=528&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.thieme-connect.de%2FDOI%2FDOI%3F10.1055%2Fs-2007-989231&amp;rft.au=N.Chester&amp;rft.au=N.Wojek&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CNeuroscience">N. Chester, N. Wojek (2008). Caffeine Consumption Amongst British Athletes Following Changes to the 2004 WADA Prohibited List International Journal of Sports Medicine, 29 (6), 524-528 DOI: 10.1055/s-2007-989231

<span title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=JournalofAppliedPhysiology&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1152%2Fjapplphysiol.01121.2007&amp;rft.atitle=Highratesofmuscleglycogenresynthesisafterexhaustiveexercisewhencarbohydrateiscoingestedwithcaffeine&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=105&amp;rft.issue=1&amp;rft.spage=7&amp;rft.epage=13&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fjap.physiology.org%2Fcgi%2Fdoi%2F10.1152%2Fjapplphysiol.01121.2007&amp;rft.au=D.J.Pedersen&amp;rft.au=S.J.Lessard&amp;rft.au=V.G.Coffey&amp;rft.au=E.G.Churchley&amp;rft.au=A.M.Wootton&amp;rft.au=T.Ng&amp;rft.au=M.J.Watt&amp;rft.au=J.A.Hawley&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CHealth%2CKinesiology">D. J. Pedersen, S. J. Lessard, V. G. Coffey, E. G. Churchley, A. M. Wootton, T. Ng, M. J. Watt, J. A. Hawley (2008). High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine Journal of Applied Physiology, 105 (1), 7-13 DOI: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01121.2007 </span>

</span>

798 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: caffeine, doping, sport_science, wada, science_in_sports, sports_supplement, anti_doping

!http://drp2010.googlepages.com/hockeyscanner.jpg|height=147|width=200|src=http://drp2010.googlepages.com/hockeyscanner.jpg|border=0!When was the last time you listened to a sporting event on the radio?  If given a choice between watching the game on a big screen plasma in HD or turning on the AM radio, most of us would probably choose the visual sensation of television.  But, for a moment, think about the active attention you need in order to listen to a radio broadcast and interpret the play-by-play announcer's descriptions.  As you hear the words, your "mind's eye" paints the picture of the action so you can imagine the scene and situations.  Your knowledge of the game, either from playing it or watching it for years helps you understand the narrative, the terms and the game's "lingo".


Now, imagine that you are listening to a broadcast about a sport you know nothing about.  Hearing Bob Uecker or Vin Scully say, "With two out in the ninth, the bases are loaded and the Brewers' RBI leader has two strikes.  The infield is in as the pitcher delivers.  Its a hard grounder to third that he takes on the short hop and fires a bullet to first for the final out."  If you have no baseball-specific knowledge, those sentences are meaningless.  However, for those of us that have grown up with baseball, that description makes perfect sense and our mind's eye helped us picture the scene.  That last sentence about the "hard grounder" and the thrown "bullet" may have even triggered some unconscious physical movements by you as your brain interpreted those action phrases.  That sensorimotor reaction is at the base of what is called "[embodied cognition | http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/embodcog.htm]".  Sian Beilock , associate professor of psychology and leader of the Human Performance Lab at the University of Chicago , defined the term this way:  "In contrast to traditional views of the mind as an abstract information processor, recent work suggests that our representations of objects and events are grounded in action. That is, our knowledge is embodied, in the sense that it consists of sensorimotor information about potential interactions that objects or events may allow."  She cites a more complete definition of the concept in Six Views of Embodied Cognition by Margaret Wilson .  Another terrific overview of the concept is provided by science writer Drake Bennet of the Boston Globe in his article earlier this year, "[Don't Just Stand There, Think | http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2008/01/13/dont_just_stand_there_think/?page=1]".


In a study released yesterday, "Sports Experience Changes the Neural Processing of Action Language", Dr. Beilock's team continued their research into the link between our learned motor skills and our language comprehension about those motor skills.  Since embodied cognition connects the body with our cognition, the sports domain provides a logical domain to study it.


Their initial look at this concept was in a 2006 study titled, "Expertise and its embodiment: Examining the impact of sensorimotor skill expertise on the representation of action-related text", where the team designed an experiment to compare the knowledge representation skill of experienced hockey players and novices.  Each group first read sentences describing both hockey-related action and common, "every-day" action, (i.e. "the referee saw the hockey helmet on the bench" vs. "the child saw the balloon in the air").  They were then shown pictures of the object mentioned in the sentences and were asked if the picture matched the action in the sentence they read.  Both groups, the athletes and the novices, responded equally in terms of accuracy and response time to the everyday sentences and pictures, but the athletes responded significantly faster to the hockey-specific sentences and pictures.  The conclusion is that those with the sensorimotor experience of sport give them an advantage of processing time over those that have not had that same experience.


Now, you may be saying, "Ya' think!?" to this somewhat obvious statement that people who have played hockey will respond faster to sentence/picture relationships about hockey than non-hockey players. Stay with us here for a minute, as the 2006 study set the groundwork for Beilock's team to take the next step with the question, "is there any evidence that the athletes are using different parts of their brain when processing these match or no match decisions?"  The link between our physical skill memory and our language comprehension would be at the base of the embodied cognition theory.  So, in the latest research, the HPL team kept the same basic experimental design, but now wanted to watch the participants' brain activity using fMRI scanning .  This time, there were three groups, hockey players, avid fans of hockey and novices who had no playing or viewing experience with hockey at all.  First, all groups passively listened to sentences about hockey actions and also sentences about everyday actions while being monitored by fMRI.   Second, outside of the fMRI scanner, they again listened to hockey-related and everyday-related action sentences and then were shown pictures of hockey or every day action and asked if there was a match or mis-match between the sentence and the picture.


This comprehension test showed similar results as in 2006, but now the team could try to match the relative skill in comprehension to the neural activity shown in the fMRI scans when listening.  Both the players and the fans showed increased activity in the left dorsal premotor cortex, a region thought to support the selection of well-learned action plans and procedures.  You might be surprised that the fans' brains showed activity in the same regions as the athletes.  We saw this effect in a previous post, "Does Practice Make Perfect", where those that practiced a new dance routine and those that only watched it showed similar brain area activity.  On the other side, the total novices showed activity in the bilateral primary sensory-motor cortex, an area typically known for carrying out step by step instructions for new or novel tasks.  So, the interesting finding here is that those with experience, either playing or watching, are actually calling on additional neural networks in their brains to help their normal language comprehension abilities.  In other words, the memories of learned actions are linked and assist other cognitive tasks.  That sounds pretty much like the definition of embodied cognition and Dr. Beilock's research has helped that theory take another step forward.  In her words, "Experience playing and watching sports has enduring effects on language understanding by changing the neural networks that support comprehension to incorporate areas active in performing sports skills."


So, take pride in your own brain the next time you hear, "Kobe dribbles the ball to the top of the key, crosses over, drives the lane, and finger rolls over Duncan for two." If you can picture that play in your mind, your left dorsal premotor cortex just kicked into gear!


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<span style="font-size: small;" title="ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&amp;rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Ajournal&amp;rft.jtitle=ProceedingsoftheNationalAcademyofSciences&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1073%2Fpnas.0803424105&amp;rft.atitle=Sportsexperiencechangestheneuralprocessingofactionlanguage&amp;rft.date=2008&amp;rft.volume=&amp;rft.issue=&amp;rft.spage=&amp;rft.epage=&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.pnas.org%2Fcgi%2Fdoi%2F10.1073%2Fpnas.0803424105&amp;rft.au=S.L.Beilock&amp;rft.au=I.M.Lyons&amp;rft.au=A.Mattarella-Micke&amp;rft.au=H.C.Nusbaum&amp;rft.au=S.L.Small&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CNeuroscience%2CCognitiveNeuroscience%2CCognitivePsychology%2C+Learning">

 

 

 

S. L. Beilock, I. M. Lyons, A. Mattarella-Micke, H. C. Nusbaum, S. L. Small (2008). Sports experience changes the neural processing of action language Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0803424105

<span style="font-size: small;" 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/17201372&amp;rft.atitle=Expertiseanditsembodiment%3AExaminingthe%0D%0Aimpactofsensorimotorskillexpertiseonthe%0D%0Arepresentationofaction-relatedtext&amp;rft.date=2006&amp;rft.volume=13&amp;rft.issue=4&amp;rft.spage=694&amp;rft.epage=701&amp;rft.artnum=http%3A%2F%2Fhpl.uchicago.edu%2FPublications%2Fpapers_reprints%2FHolt_Beilock_PBR2006.pdf&amp;rft.au=LaurenE.Holt&amp;rft.au=SianL.Beilock&amp;bpr3.included=1&amp;bpr3.tags=Psychology%2CLearning%2CCognitive+Psychology">Lauren E. Holt, Sian L. Beilock (2006). Expertise and its embodiment: Examining the impact of sensorimotor skill expertise on the representation of action-related text Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 13 (4), 694-701 PMID: 17201372

548 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, sports_cognition, sport_skills, youth_sports, sian_beilock, cognitive_science, science_in_sports

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>

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

!http://bp2.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuI716v-I/AAAAAAAAAYs/G_VFex594Dk/s320-R/hockeyconcussion.jpg|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp2.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuI716v-I/AAAAAAAAAYs/G_VFex594Dk/s320-R/hockeyconcussion.jpg!As the puck was cleared to the other end of the ice, my 9-year old son's hockey teammates raced after it.  Then, I saw him.  He was lying motionless and face down at the blue line.  He had slid headfirst into the boards to make a play. By the time our coach made it over to him, he had started to move.  After a few minutes, they both skated to the bench where I saw the two talking.  Coach looked up at me in the stands with a grim look and motioned for me to come down.  The next four hours were my introduction to sports concussions.




!http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuvHHw3uI/AAAAAAAAAY8/9sLtbEgDty0/s320-R/SportsInjuriesKidsStats.gif|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SJPuvHHw3uI/AAAAAAAAAY8/9sLtbEgDty0/s320-R/SportsInjuriesKidsStats.gif!A concussion, clinically known as a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), is one of the most common yet least understood sports injuries.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are as many as 300,000 sports and recreation-related concussions each year in the U.S., yet the diagnosis, immediate treatment and long-term effects are still a mystery to most coaches, parents and even some clinicians.  The injury can be deceiving as there is rarely any obvious signs of trauma.  If the head is not bleeding and the player either does not lose consciouness or regains it after a brief lapse, the potential damage is hidden and the usual "tough guy" mentality is to "shake it off" and get back in the game.




[Leigh Steinberg | http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leigh_Steinberg], agent and representative to some of the top professional athletes in the world (including NFL QBs Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Leinart), is tired of this ignorance and attitude.  "My clients, from the day they played Pop Warner football, are taught to believe ignoring pain, playing with pain and being part of the playing unit was the most important value," Steinberg said, "I was terrified at the understanding of how tender and narrow that bond was between cognition and consciousness and dementia and confusion".  Which is why he was the keynote speaker at last week's "New Developments in Sports-Related Concussions" conference hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Medical College Sport Medicine Department in Pittsburgh.  Leading researchers gathered to discuss the latest research on sports-related concussions, their diagnosis and treatment.  "There's been huge advancement in this area," said Dr. Micky Collins, the assistant director for the UPMC Sports Medicine Program. "We've learned more in the past five years than the previous 50 combined."




 

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So, what is a concussion?  The CDC defines a concussion as "a complex pathophysiologic process affecting the brain, induced by traumatic biomechanical forces secondary to direct or indirect forces to the head."  Being a "mild" form of traumatic brain injury, it is generally believed that there is no actual structural damage to the brain from a concussion, but more a disruption in the biochemistry and electrical processes between neurons.  The brain is surrounded by cerebrospinal fluid, which is supposed to provide some protection from minor blows to the head.  However, a harder hit can cause rotational forces that affect a wide area of the brain, but most importantly the mid-brain and the reticular activating system which may explain the loss of consciousness in some cases.




In my son's case, he regained consciousness on the ice, but was in a very confused and dazed state for several hours.  He could not tell us his name, his teammates names, or even his brothers' names.  His expression was blank and he kept asking the same questions, "why are we here?" and "what happened"?   The local hospital performed a CT scan to look for any bleeding or skull fracture.  Seeing none, the diagnosis was an MTBI and that he would recover over time.  After four hours, his memory and personality did slowly return.  For some athletes, the concussion symptoms take longer to disappear in what is known as post-concussion syndrome.  It is not known whether this is from some hidden structural damage or more permanent disruption to neuronal activity.  Repeated concussions over time can lead to a condition known as dementia pugilistica , with long-term impairments to speech, memory and mental processing.




After the initial concussion, returning to the field before symptoms clear raises the risk of second impact syndrome, which can cause more serious, long-term effects.  As part of their "Heads Up" concussion awareness campaign, the CDC offers this video story of Brandon Schultz , a high school football player, who was not properly diagnosed after an initial concussion and suffered a second hit the following week, which permanently changed his life.  Without some clinical help, the player, parents and coach can only rely on the lack of obvious symptoms before declaring a concussion "healed".  However, making this "return to play" decision is now getting some help from some new post-concussion tests.  The first is a neurological skills test called ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion and Cognitive Testing) created by the same researchers at UPMC.  It is an online test given to athletes after a concussion to measure their performance in attention span, working memory, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, problem solving and reaction time.  Comparing a "concussed" athlete's performance on the test with a baseline measurement will help the physician decide if the brain has healed sufficiently.




However, Dr. Collins and his team wanted to add physiological data to the psychological testing to see if there was a match between brain activity, skill testing and reported symptoms after a concussion.  In a study released last year in the journal Neurosugery, they performed functional MRI (fMRI) brain imaging studies on 28 concussed high-school athletes while they performed certain working memory tasks to see if there was a significant link between performance on the tests and changes in brain activation.  They were tested about one week after injury and again after the normal clinical recovery period.“In our study, using fMRI, we demonstrate that the functioning of a network of brain regions is significantly associated with both the severity of concussion symptoms and time to recover,” said Jamie Pardini, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist on the clinical and research staff of the UPMC concussion program and co-author of the study.  “We identified networks of brain regions where changes in functional activation were associated with performance on computerized neurocognitive testing and certain post-concussion symptoms,” Dr. Pardini added. "Also, our study confirms previous research suggesting that there are neurophysiological abnormalities that can be measured even after a seemingly mild concussion.” 




Putting better assessment tools in the hands of athletic trainers and coaches will provide evidence-based coaching decisions that are best for the athlete's health.  Better decisions will also ease the minds of parents knowing their child has fully recovered from their "invisible" injury.

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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=Lovell&amp;rft.aufirst=Mark&amp;rft.aumiddle=R&amp;rft.au=Mark+ Lovell&amp;rft.au=JamieEPardini&amp;rft.au=Joel+Welling&amp;rft.au=MichaelWCollins&amp;rft.au=JenniferBakal&amp;rft.au=NicoleLazar&amp;rft.au=RebeccaRoush&amp;rft.au=WilliamFEddy&amp;rft.au=JamesTBecker&amp;rft.title=Neurosurgery&amp;rft.atitle=FUNCTIONALBRAINABNORMALITIESARERELATEDTOCLINICALRECOVERYANDTIMETORETURN-TO-PLAYINATHLETES&amp;rft.date=2007&amp;rft.volume=61&amp;rft.issue=2&amp;rft.spage=352&amp;rft.epage=360&amp;rft.genre=article&amp;rft.id=info:DOI/10.1227%2F01.NEU.0000279985.94168.7F">Lovell, M.R., Pardini, J.E., Welling, J., Collins, M.W., Bakal, J., Lazar, N., Roush, R., Eddy, W.F., Becker, J.T. (2007). FUNCTIONAL BRAIN ABNORMALITIES ARE RELATED TO CLINICAL RECOVERY AND TIME TO RETURN-TO-PLAY IN ATHLETES. Neurosurgery, 61(2), 352-360. DOI: 10.1227/01.NEU.0000279985.94168.7F </font>

724 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: football, soccer, concussion, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, youth_sports, mtbi, head_injury

!http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SHow_OmdEqI/AAAAAAAAAXU/0QZneKnbrAQ/s320-R/beane.jpg|style=border: 0pt none ;|src=http://bp1.blogger.com/_3b3RMRFwqU0/SHow_OmdEqI/AAAAAAAAAXU/0QZneKnbrAQ/s320-R/beane.jpg!Most baseball general managers live in obscurity most of their careers.  Its their first hire, the manager, that usually gets the red hot spotlight, after every win and loss, second-guessed by reporters with recorders and then later by fans.  The GM puts the players on the field and lets the manager and his coaches take it from there.  Billy Beane , Oakland A's general manager, could have also been an unknown, albeit interesting, name to the baseball audience if it were not for author Michael Lewis' 2003 book, Moneyball  .  Moneyball was a runaway hit (even today, 5 years later, it is #19 on Amazon's list of baseball books).  It has morphed into a full-fledged catchphrase philosophy used by everyone from Wall Street (where Beane borrowed the concept) to business consulting.  The general theme is to find undervalued assets (ballplayers) by focusing on statistics that your competition is ignoring.  Of course, you have to believe in your metrics and their predictive value for success (why has everyone else ignored these stats?)  The source of most of Beane's buried treasure of stats was Bill James and his Sabrmetrics.  Like picking undervalued stocks of soon to explode companies, Beane looked for the diamond in the dust (pun intended) and sign the player while no one was looking.  Constrained by his "small-market" team revenues, or maybe by his owners' crowbar-proof wallets, he needed to make the most from every dollar.

The combination of a GM's shrewd player selection and a manager who can develop that talent should reward the owner with the best of both worlds: an inexpensive team that wins.  This salary vs. performance metric is captured perfectly in this "real-time" graphic at BenFry.com .  It connects the updated win-loss record for each MLB team with its payroll to show the "bang for the buck" that the GMs/managers are getting from their players.  Compare the steep negative relationship for the Mets, Yankees, Tigers and Mariners with the amazing results of the Rays, Twins and Beane's own A's.  While the critics of Moneyball tactics would rightly point to the A's lack of a World Series win or even appearance, the "wins to wages" ratio has not only kept Beane in a job but given him part ownership in the A's and now the newly resurrected San Jose Earthquakes of soccer's MLS.  Beane believes the same search for meaningful and undiscovered metrics in soccer can give the Quakes the same arbitrage advantage.  In fact, there are rumours that he will focus full-time on conquering soccer as he knows there are much bigger opportunities worldwide if he can prove his methods within MLS.

In baseball, Beane relied on the uber-stat guru, Bill James, for creative and more relevant statistical slices of the game.  In soccer, he is working with some top clubs including his new favorite, Tottenham-Hotspur, of the English Premier League.  While he respects the history and tradition of the game, he is confident that his search for a competitive advantage will uncover hidden talents.  Analytical tools from companies such as Opta   in Europe and Match Analysis in the U.S. have combined video with detailed stat breakdowns of every touch of the ball for every player in each game.  Finding the right pattern and determinant of success has become the key, according to Match Analysis president Mark Brunkhart as quoted earlier this year ,
"You don't need statistics to spot the real great players or the really bad ones. The trick is to take the players between those two extremes and identify which are the best ones.  If all you do is buy the players that everyone else wants to buy then you will end up paying top dollar. But if you take Beane's approach - to use a disciplined statistical process to influence the selection of players who will bring the most value - then you are giving yourself the best chance of success. Who would not want to do that?"

Not to feel left out (or safe from scrutiny), the NBA now has its own sport-specific zealots.  The [Association for Professional Basketball Research (APBR) | http://apbr.org/] devotes its members time and research to finding the same type of meaningful stats that have been ignored by players, coaches and fans.  They, too, have their own Moneyball-bible, "The Wages of Wins " by David Berri, Martin Schmidt, and Stacey Brook.  David Berri's [WoW journal/blog | http://dberri.wordpress.com/] regularly posts updates and stories related to the current NBA season and some very intriguing analysis of its players and the value of their contributions.  None other than Malcolm Gladwell, of Tipping Point and Blink fame, provided the [review of Wages of Wins for the New Yorker | http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2006/05/29/060529crbo_books1].  One of the main stats used is something called a player's "Win Score" which attempts to measure the complete player, not just points, rebounds and assists.

 

Win Score (WS) = PTS + REB + STL + ½BLK + ½AST – FGA – ½FTA – TO – ½PF.   (Points, Rebounds, Steals, Blocked Shots, Assists, Field Goal Attempts, Free Throw Attempts, Turnovers, Personal Fouls)

 

WS is then adjusted for minutes played with the stat, WS48.  Of course, different player positions will have different responsibilities, so to compare players of different positions the Position Adjusted Win Score per 48 minutes or PAWS48 is calculated as: WS48 – Average WS48 at primary position played.  This allows an apples to apples comparison between players at a position, and a reasonable comparison of players' values across positions.  Berri's latest article looks at the fascination with Michael Beasley and some early comparisons in the Orlando Summer League. 

Will these statistics-based approaches to player evaluation be accepted by the "establishment"?  Judging by the growing number of young, MBA-educated GMs in sports, there is a movement towards more efficient and objective selection criteria.  Just as we saw in previous evidence-based coaching articles , the evidence-based general manager is here to stay.


 

585 Views 0 Comments Permalink Tags: nba, basketball, soccer, baseball, moneyball, sport_science, evidence_based_coaching, decision_theory_in_sports, billy_beane, bill_james, wages_of_wins

!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.

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