Monthly Archives: August 2011

Gatorade – A Sports Drink or a Mouthwash

via Axon Sports

What is it about Gatorade that has athletes so hooked? Is it the taste? The feel of an ice-cold beverage quenching their thirst? An increase in performance? Or could it possibly be the amount of sugar that makes up these drinks? Scientists at the University of Birmingham carried out a series of experiments1 that offer some insight as to how the sugary component of the drink may be linked to improvements in performance. In one study, two groups of cyclists were timed for a 40 km bike ride. One group was given a drink filled with carbohydrates and electrolytes (much like Gatorade) and the other group got a regular drink with …

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There are no such thing as hot streaks

via Axon Sports

Over at his blog, The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer has a post that references one of the most interesting and baffling studies on athletes ever performed.  In 1985, Amos Taversky and Thomas Gilovich, two absolute giants in the field of cognitive psychology, looked at the shooting performance of the Philadelphia 76er’s, the Boston Celtics and the Cornell University men’s basketball team to see if what had happened over a player’s previous shots had any future, predictive effect on his next shot–are players on a shooting streak more likely to stay on that streak? Here’s what they found: Over 90% of basketball fans believe that a player has a better chance of …

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Sport-specific memory and information chunking

via Axon Sports

One of the most interesting distinctions to think about when we’re talking about athletes and cognition is the difference between the reactive, lighting-quick decision making that happens on the field, and the slower, more deliberate though involved in what often gets called “strategy”. Both are important, but both are different.  In some ways the divide mirrors the difference between implicit or procedural memory–skills that we execute without thinking consciously about them, like riding a bike–and explicit or declarative memory, which are memories that we call forth, like remembering the capitol of California. Th high-speed recognition of anticipatory cues, discussed a few weeks ago, is a skill that falls more into the …

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The science behind choking

via Axon Sports

Free throw shooting in basketball offers one of the best opportunities to look at the effects of pressure on athletic performance.  Most NBA players can stand around in an empty gym and knock down free throw after free throw.  It’s one of those skills that has been so refined by deliberate practice that it’s basically performed on autopilot.  But it’s a different story to put that same player in a pressure-packed situation, in front of a crowd, with the game on the line.  In research conducted by Art Markman at the University of Texas, it appears that NBA players are more likely to choke in critical, late-game situations: The  highest pressure …

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The 10,000 hour rule and expert athletic performance

via Axon Sports

Some of the oldest and most prominent cliches that athletes are fed on a day-in, day-out basis revolve around practice (e.g. “practice makes perfect”).  Like a lot of cliches, these sayings are boring but turn out to be true. Recently, research surrounding the concept of practice and expertise has begun to be supported by neuroscience.  Best selling books like Malcolm Gladwells’ Outliers and Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code have taken aim at traditional conceptions of talent, arguing that rather than an innate predisposition toward greatness, the limiting factor in expertise and achievement is actually grit, tenacity and the willingness to put in countless hours practicing a skill. Specifically, K Anders Ericcson …

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Do athletes have superior decision-making abilities?

via Axon Sports

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

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The Wonderlic makes no sense. So what does?

via Axon Sports

There is a very interesting article in the upcoming ESPN magazine by Jonah Lehrer about the Wonderlic, and why on earth NFL teams insist on continuing to use it. The article is interesting, and addresses the fundamental silliness of using the wonderlic as a measure of a quarterback’s fitness for pro ball. This is, in essence, because the wonderlic tests a type of intelligence and decision making that is so different from what happens on the field that it is basically useless. (Check out some sample Wonderlic questions here.) From the ESPN Article: Consider a recent study by economists David Berri and Rob Simmons. While they found that Wonderlic scores play …

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The anticipatory skills of athletes

via Axon Sports

In the past, we’ve talked about the difficulty in determining exactly what cognitive skills sets elite athletes apart from their competition. Simple laboratory tests of reaction time or visual skills don’t do a very good job. Given the complexity of the decisions and movements that athletes make during competition, it’s not surprising that it turns out we have to dig a little deeper, and make things more sport-specific before we can start teasing those differences out. Research on elite athletes’ anticipation skills suggests that it may not be the simple, reactive skills that set athletes apart. Research out of Brunel University and the University of Hong Kong have shown that when …

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