So I have this great book that I pull out every once in a while. It’s called Sports Illustrated; Fifty Years of Great Writing.
I picked it up the other day and opened it o an old article about Yogi Berra, the New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher and world-famous malaprop philosopher. Famous quotes attributed to Berra are somewhere between idiotic and genius. “No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded” … “Be careful if you don’t know where your going. You might not get there,” and “The Future ain’t what it used to be.”Yogi also is thought to have said – no one including Berra can say for sure – that “Sports are 80 percent mental and the other half is physical.” In the article I read the other day, Yogi said, “You can’t hit and think at the same time.”
I had to think about that one for a minute, which I guess means I can’t read and think at the same time. It reminded me of something Paul Riley, the head coach of the North Carolina Courage of the National Women’s Soccer League, said about the progress one of his players had made. “This year, she can think and play. Last year, she could just play.”
What Yogi and Riley were referring to in their own unique way was the difference between thinking and reacting. It’s safe to say that, as a coach, you have said or heard someone say, “Don’t think, react!” Or, you’ve said or heard the opposite, “You gotta think!”
So which is it? It’s both, kind of.
There are countless studies on the reaction time necessary to successfully play different sports. I’m sure you’re curious, so here’s the top five – hockey, soccer, boxing, motor sports and racket sports. And obviously, when we talk about reaction time, we are talking about the ability to react properly. Covering your eyes is a reaction, so is running away. But neither will get you very far in your chosen sport.
There are also countless scientific studies detailing how to improve reaction time, but it all starts with one simple concept. Athletes draw on their experiences to solve problems with which they are faced. The more situations players are put in that cause them to react to different scenarios, the better the reaction time will be.
Like everything in sports, reacting properly is a skill that needs to be developed, and repetition is crucial in training your brain and your muscles to perform.
“Much deliberate thought is required in the early stages of learning any new skill,” writes Jim Brown, a consultant with more than 25 years of experience helping teens and young adults overcome barriers so they achieve more success.
“As we practice and repeat the skill, those newly developed neural pathways become stronger. Only through repeated and deliberate practice do we develop those stronger neuro-pathway’s within the brain. The more deliberate, repeated practice, the stronger the neuro-pathway, the stronger the skill. When new skills are built upon those previously learned skills, new connections are made. As this occurs, a web of neuro-connections develops within the brain. Habits form. That’s why you no longer need to think about how to tie your shoe. You just see it untied and tie it.”
So, it seems Yogi might be closer to the truth than everyone thought. Sports can be 80 percent mental and half physical.