Sports experts agree that mastering a sport doesn’t just stem from physical practice and skills. Reaching peak performance potential in any sport demands a high degree of mental resilience and focus.
While today’s athletes manage just about every aspect of their lives to optimize for physical performance, the physical demands of playing a sport coupled with sleep deprivation, diet, chemical dependency, stress and other common factors may take away their cognitive edge. We’ve rounded up six ways cognitive health affects sports performance.
1. Attention & Focus
Being able to focus and pay attention is crucial for an athlete’s performance. When cognitive health is maintained, it allows the athlete focus entirely on the game and the plays at hand. A sense of clarity leads to smart, fast and accurate decision making and the ability to focus on the present. It helps athletes move on from past mistakes and avoid future errors to win more games.
2. Motor Skills
Cognitive health is essential for excellent motor skills. Motor skills, both simple and complex, are the foundation of almost every sport. While gross motor skills, such running, jumping, and throwing are more obvious, athletes also use a vast amount of fine motor skills. Many sports require hand-eye coordination and the control of precise movements by using small muscle groups. One example is how a pitcher throws different pitches. A pitcher throws the ball with slightly different hand motions, each resulting in a different pitch location. Even a basketball player has to control his follow-through to ensure he’ll make a basket. When motor skills are refined and maintained, athletes will be able to undoubtably see their improvements.
3. Reaction Time
Being able to react swiftly is essential to athletic performance. Every player, whether the sport is soccer, baseball, lacrosse or water polo, needs to be able to react quickly to in response to the ball, their teammates and the other team. Not to mention, a quick reaction time could prevent a player from serious injury.
Working memory plays a huge role in the success of any sport, whether it’s remembering a play, knowing how many outs there are, or even knowing where your teammates are on the field. A healthy memory also allows an athlete to process and comprehend changes on the field and gives them the ability adapt to new game plans as they arise.
5. Visual Processing
Athletes must acutely process and interpret their surrounding environments. When athletes nurture their cognitive health, they will improve their visual processing and perform better. Athletes with skilled visual processing can make mental maps of the field and take in peripheral information at a glance which helps with game-time decision making.
6. Mental Strength
Mental strength is just as important as physical strength. After nine long innings, four exhausting quarters, or a demanding match, a player lacking metal prowess may start to feel mentally fatigued which can impact their physical performance. When an athlete’s cognitive health is at its best, an athlete is more like to give their 100% throughout the entire game. They will be able to preserve and thrive through the exhaustion of the competitive environment.
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