Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Get better through observation

December 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Mental Side, Practice

When Tiger Woods was a young child and being watched by his father, he would often be put in a high-chair so dad could practice his golf swing.  For safety reasons, Tiger’s dad didn’t want little Tiger to be walking around while dad was swinging a golf club.  The high-chair kept him safe.  It may have also helped him learn a pretty good golf swing.

In the human brain, there are several different types of neurons that help us process information that is coming in via the senses.  One type are called “mirror neurons.”  Neuroscientists do not all agree on every aspect of this but a good number of them see a connection between these mirror neurons and observational learning.  Take a look at these two brain scans …

 

The top row shows both sides of a brain when the person physically reached for something.  The scan indicates what parts of the brain “lit up” while the physical action was taken.  This information gives scientists an idea of what parts of the brain are responsible for particular tasks.  The bottom row shows both sides of another brain.  This person simply watched the other person reach for something. 

Notice anything? 

Many of the same areas of the brain “lit up” while just observing someone else perform the task.  Just watching somebody do something has similar effects on your brain as if you did it yourself!

This is why watching people perform mechanically sound tasks like pitching, hitting, fielding, and base running can be important.  Observing correct form in others “teaches” your brain the task as if you were doing it yourself!

For more evidence, here is a study an Australian psychologist performed on basketball players using another form of observation.

He took a group of basketball players, divided them in 3 groups, and tested each player’s ability to make free throws.  He then had each group do the following:

  • Group 1 practiced free throws 20 minutes every day for a period of time.
  • Group 2 would only visualize themselves making free throws for the same period of time, but no real physical practice was allowed.  (Note: Visualization is a form of observation – you close your eyes and visually “watch” yourself perform a task perfectly.)
  • Group 3 did not practice free throws or visualize at all during that period of time.

Here were the results …

  • Group 1 showed the most improvement in their free throws.  No shock here.
  • Group 3 showed the least improvement.  No shock here either.

But … (drum roll, please) …

  • Group 2 showed almost the same amount of improvement in free throws as Group 1 even though they never physically shot any free throws!

So, here is my take-away …

Watch good players play baseball!  Go to YouTube and watch videos of good players hitting, pitching, fielding, etc.  Have I told you I have a YouTube Channel?

Maybe you are injured and cannot physically practice.  Maybe you are just snowed in and can’t get to your indoor practice.   Maybe you are just exhausted and cannot do anything more physically.  No matter the situation, do some observing and visualizing!  It works!

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