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Dan Peterson
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CMO at gameSenseSports.com, Athlete Cognition Consultant at 80PercentMental.com
CMO at gameSenseSports.com, Athlete Cognition Consultant at 80PercentMental.com

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Many young athletes are adding visual skills training to their overall athletic training regimen. The goal is to “see the ball earlier” in the pitch zone allowing for more time to perceive rotation and trajectory. More time translates into increased confidence and increased exit batted ball velocity.

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With less than a half second to to make the swing/no-swing decision, if the muscle activity isn’t triggered early in the pitch, the bat just won’t get around in time.

This time lag between incoming visual stimuli, motion planning in the brain and activation of the muscles, known as sensorimotor delay, is common throughout sports.  Think about a goalkeeper moving to stop a hockey puck or soccer ball; a tennis player returning a blistering serve; or a receiver adjusting to the flight of a football.  Their eyes tell them the speed and path of the object they need to intercept, then their brain instructs the body to move in the predicted path to arrive just in time.

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Back in 2013, before his recent retirement, before his second Super Bowl win, Peyton Manning wasn’t sure if he would ever play football again.  After surgeons removed the bulging cervical intervertebral disc in his neck, the pain was gone but then the rehab learning process was just beginning.  

Damage to the surrounding nerves along with new metal hardware now holding together the vertebrae above and below the injured area caused a communications disruption between Manning’s brain and that well-trained right arm.  The result was a future Hall of Fame quarterback having to relearn how to throw a football.

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"First, the 3D games have a few things the 2D ones do not," said Dr. Dane Clemenson. "They've got a lot more spatial information in there to explore. Second, they're much more complex, with a lot more information to learn. Either way, we know this kind of learning and memory not only stimulates but requires the hippocampus."

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"We show, for the first time, that aerobic fitness may play a role in this cortical thinning," said Dr. Chaddock-Heyman. "In particular, we find that higher-fit 9- and 10-year-olds show a decrease in gray-matter thickness in some areas known to change with development, specifically in the frontal, temporal and occipital lobes of the brain."

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"The wrong or right use of words can send an athlete into a chain-reaction spiral of events--actions and reactions that can be positive or negative.  It just depends on the athlete."

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“We know from previous research that kids struggle to form complex associations in the moment, so we thought that with some time off and periods of sleep they might be able to do better,” said Dr. Darby. “And it turned out that when they had time to absorb the information, they did better.”

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Kicking a football through the uprights of a goal post is slightly different than kicking a soccer ball into a goal but we didn’t have to completely relearn the kicking task when switching between the two sports. Researchers at McGill University took another step forward in understanding how the trial and error of practice teaches our brain to perform these complex sports skills.

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"The drive to win underpins both gambling behaviour and competitive sport," said Dr. Belle Gavriel-Fried of Tel Aviv’s School of Social Work. "Most of the research within this area has been conducted on university athletes, but we wanted to dig deeper, find out whether the link between gambling and physical activities began earlier -- before other co-factors emerge -- and we found out that, in fact, it does."

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Adam Gazzaley is building a repertoire of games that could one day help us reduce or even reverse the impact on our cognitive faculties of disorders such as Alzheimer's, or deficits caused by brain trauma. At his neuroscience lab within the University of California San Francisco and his gaming company Akili, Gazzaley is attempting to discover whether "we can use this approach to really make a difference".
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