How Brain Training Improves Sports Performance

How Brain Training Improves Sports Performance

Athletes spend years intensively training
in the gym, on the slopes and at the rink. But how much is a difference in performance
all in the mind? Researchers have studied the effectiveness
of motor imagery techniques, where instead of physical practice, athletes visualise their
path to victory. In one study, competitive skiers were broken
up into three groups, dynamic imagery, static imagery and a control group. The dynamic imagery
group stood in their ski gear, on a ski slope, while they imagined themselves completing
a down-hill slalom course. The static imagery group sat inside while they imagined completing
the course. And the control group only stretched and didn’t use imagery at all.
When all groups raced down the same course, the dynamic imagery group had the fastest
average time, followed by the static imagery group and then the control group. The dynamic
imagery group also reported higher confidence in their performance.
Mental practice—rehearsing a motor skill in your mind—can actually improve physical
performance. Studies have shown that mental practice can improve the accuracy of tennis
serves and hockey shots. And the effectiveness of motor imagery is improved if it’s done
in an environmental similar to the one you compete in, like on a ski slope.
So what’s actually happening inside your brain? Brain imaging studies show when you imagine
a movement, the same areas of your brain are triggered as when you actually perform that
movement. For example, when people imagine walking, their primary motor cortex lights
up. This area usually generates neural impulses that pass down the spinal cord and tell your
legs to walk. The only difference with motor imagery is that no movements actually occur—it’s
all in the mind. So this mental training is similar to physical
training. By repeatedly activating the motor networks for a movement without actually doing
it, you can strengthen the communication between neurons associated with that movement. This
is the same way physical practice improves performance.
Athletes obviously need to train their bodies with physical practice, but training their
brains can improve the accuracy of their shots, without them even lifting a finger.
So what happens to athletes bodies when they train and compete at altitude? Check out Untamed
Science for a biological take on peak performance. And subscribe to BrainCraft for a new video
every other week.

16 Replies to “How Brain Training Improves Sports Performance”

  1. I wonder what the results would be if you had one group do the dynamic setup and one group do the static set up while wearing a VR headset like Oculus Rift.

  2. Coaches always told me to "visualize" I would always ask why. They said "just trust me". One time coach told me I would slam a homer to left field next at bat….what happened? Exactly that, I thought he was magic

  3. This is really useful to know. I'd heard about this idea previously, but you explained it really well. The little athletes are pretty cute too. Totally going to share this with my Underwater Rugby team!

  4. "Do not try and bend the spoon, that's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth…there is no spoon. Then you will see it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself."
    – Spoon Boy to Neo –

  5. This brain exercising game “nonu amazing only” (Google it) amuses me significantly! My focus and ability to remember could develop by playing these games because they are very challenging. I never thought that my whole family will enjoy this game too and in some cases, we take part in the game altogether using only one mobile phone!

  6. I`ve been making use of this brain training game “nonu amazing only” (Google it) for approximately two weeks and I already notice a big improvement in my capability to focus, improve my brain! This is a fun but difficult game you have to try. I got it for totally free.

  7. I found this soccer training tool for the rapid increase in brain timing and improved balance. Its called the SenseBall. I found it improved my coordination quickly and served as an excellent warm-up device I could use on my own to be game day. ready It requires concentration, and the more I concentrate the better my movements are.
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