Friday, February 23, 2018

Are Olympians Born or Made?

Olympic skater Adam Rippon.

The breathtaking achiements of Olympic athletes, and all elite athletes, bring us wonder and joy.

But, are Olympians born or made?

Learning any motor skill involves a complex relationship between the body and the brain. As the body learns a particular movement through constant repetition and practice, the brain is also learning. At each new skill level, the brain stores what it has learned in a separate area while it continues to learn. Once a skill is mastered, an athlete finds ways to trigger the brain to remember what it has learned. Some athletes learn to focus solely on the activity so that the brain is not
in any way distracted.
Conditioning (as in training), motor skills, coordination

1. Why is it difficult to hit a baseball the first time you try?
The first time a person tries to hit a baseball, neither the brain nor the corresponding muscles have learned how to respond to the oncoming ball and coordinate the swing of the bat. Both have to learn this new skill.
2. How does the brain learn motor skills?
In order to perform a motor skill, the brain has to coordinate many different muscles at the same time. This makes learning a skill somewhat complex. Nevertheless, the brain has an efficient way of consolidating new information, saving what it needs and discarding what it does not. Certain parts of
the brain are active during motor learning and become inactive once the skill is mastered. New procedural memories are formed in areas of the brain dedicated to short-term memory. But they don’t stay there. Instead, these memories are stored elsewhere in the brain for future retrieval.
3. According to Dr. David Van Essen, what must an athlete do in order to perform successfully?
An athlete must analyze not just one but several objects moving simultaneously in many different directions. The visual system controls the flow of that information into the specialized subsystems of the brain that make sense of the shapes and movement trajectories of those objects.

1. Is there such a thing as a born athlete?
No person is born with the ability to hit a home run. All athletic skills are learned by the brain and the body. Individuals may be born with the potential to develop bigger and stronger muscles, but the ability to coordinate the muscles to perform well is always learned.
2. What are the most important skills an athlete must develop?
Perfect coordination between the brain and the body and the ability to “trigger” the brain to remember what it has learned. Athletes often refer to this ability as being “grooved” or “in the zone.” To hit a home run, both the body and the brain have to be well trained and perfectly coordinated. If a
person’s muscles are tired or the brain is distracted, the person is likely to pop up, ground out, or miss the ball completely.

Source: Dana Sourcebook of Brain Science, Third Edition

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