Dr. Anne Shadle Resources

 High-Performance Coaching
(4/9/2019)
 
   

High-Performance Coaching


Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle


In this article, we will examine high-performance coaching. From here, we will look at specific coaching behaviors and how they affect performance. Today, we see the word “coaching” being used in many different fields. Whether you are a coach in sport, business or even in a leadership role, the word “coach” describes a way of interacting with people. Coaching is a specific type of behavior. Many leaders use coaching-type behaviors. We see these behaviors in leadership models such as transformational leadership theory (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017). The purpose of this article is to look deeper into specific high-performance coaching behaviors and how these coaching behaviors affect performance.

First, let’s look at the definition of COACHING and then HIGH-PERFORMANCE COACHING:

COACHING -> Leaders attempts to improve performance by facilitating the acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and competencies.

I have highlighted the words that I think are most important for us to examine for the purpose of this article. Please read through the entire definition and then take a second to reflect on the words highlighted. If we take the first definition of coaching, the keywords highlighted are knowledge, skills, and competencies. If you remember from the ABC’s of Self-Determination Theory, this theory says that the key elements needed in a person’s life to nurture intrinsic motivation are autonomy, belonging and competence. These elements lay the foundation for intrinsic motivation leading to a self-determined individual. The C within the ABC’s of Self-Determination Theory is competence when developing knowledge and skill.



• HIGH-PERFORMANCE COACHING -> A systematic application of collaborative, individualized, solution-focused psychological practices by leaders to enhance individual, group, or organizational performance. It is intended to support individuals in better regulating and directing their intrapersonal and interpersonal resources to attain goals and help individuals to maximize strengths through self-directed learning. (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017)

The words of importance highlighted here are: systematic application, enhance performance, support individuals, attain goals, help individuals, maximize strengths, self-directed learning. Out of these words, support, goals, help and self-directed learning are keywords/skills for our attention. These words speak to the A and B of the ABC’s within Self-Determination Theory which is the need for (A) - autonomy (goals, self-directed learning) and a sense of (B) - belonging (support individuals, help individuals).

In the field of psychology, we are interested in creating theories and frameworks from knowledge acquired that help us better understand and predict behavior. Keeping the Self-Determination Theory’s framework in mind, let’s next look into specific coaching behaviors.

Regardless of the employment area, the literature on all high-performance coaches has similar behaviors. Those behaviors are: observing and performance analysis, ask effective questions, facilitate goal setting, provide developmental feedback and motivational feedback (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017). These specific behaviors have been proven in research to offer psychometrically sound, brief, and easy ways to measure high-performance coaching behavior. This framework was developed through the workplace, leadership, and sport coaching literature (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017). What are these specific behaviors?

1. Observing and Performance Analysis
1. Plays close attention to what the athlete does
2. Carefully observes athlete’s skills
3. Carefully watches athlete doing the skills and drills
4. Analyzes athlete’s performance

Observation as a coaching behavior key. Try stepping back and taking a researcher’s eye to practice. Training as a researcher, one of my assignments in graduate school was to go into an environment that we were familiar with and sit back and observe. This allowed us to see the familiar environment through a different lens and from a different perspective. I challenge you to do the same. Step back, slow down and intentionally watch interactions and skills being practiced. What do you observe? Be specific on what you observe. Write down what you observe and think. Later allow yourself time to process what you have observed as it relates to performance analysis.

2. Effective Questioning
1. Encourages athlete to think about how they can improve performance
2. Encourages athlete to question the way they do things
3. Encourages athlete to make suggestions on how they think they can improve performance
4. Asks the athlete’s opinion on how they can improve performance

My graduate school professor would often remind us that, “It is twice as hard to LISTEN as it is to talk. This is why we have two ears and only one mouth.” Take the time to ask the right questions and then being PATIENT enough for the reply. PATIENCE can be very challenging yet extremely important and effective in helping our athletes perform. Coaches need to create space for their athletes to answer questions. Great teams I have been part of, have done this at team events, dinners and on bus rides when practice times did not allow for the time and attention needed. Effective questioning allows the athlete to understand and digest what they are learning. Effective questioning allows the development of a key piece of autonomy (ownership). Two challenges: 1. Think about a specific athlete and create a list of questions that get at helping them perform better. 2. Create a question list that addresses the four items listed above.

3. Goal Setting
1. Monitors athlete’s progress toward goals
2. Helps athlete set short-term goals
3. Helps athlete identify targets for attaining goals
4. Helps athlete set long-term goals
5. Provides support to an athlete to help attain goals

Coaches, hopefully, are usually pretty good at goal setting. They have meetings with their athletes at the beginning of the season, meetings (individual/team) throughout the season and reflection/summary/team input at the end of the season as well as setting goals for the off-season. I would encourage you to continue to improve on the five areas listed above. Continue to talk to your athletes about the process of success. Continue to build the vision for them on where we are going and how each individual in practice and training is responsible for helping us get closer to the end goal.

4. Developmental Feedback
1. Makes sure athlete understands what they need to do to improve
2. Gives athlete advice on how to improve their skills
3. Offers advice on what the athlete needs to do to improve
4. Shows the athlete how to improve their skills

Feedback is critical information that helps individuals understand how they are performing and what changes, if any, need to be made. Coaches have a lot of different ways in which they give feedback. Coaches employ different tools to give that feedback. Key factors for feedback are the development of skills and strategies that align with your athlete’s and team’s goals. Developmental feedback provides athletes with direction, builds self-awareness, allows for self- reflection, and performance improvement. In the organizational psychology literature, it has been found that developmental feedback is aligned with intrinsic motivation which enhances learning and improvement. What this is saying is that developmental feedback helps build intrinsic motivation in your athletes which helps them be more engaged in the learning and focused on improvement.

5. Motivational Feedback

1. Tells athlete when they do a particularly good job
2. Sees that the athlete is rewarded for good performance
3. Expresses appreciation when an athlete performs well
4. Gives athlete credit where credit is due
(The five topics listed above were adapted from Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017).

There is a lot of research that highlights the importance of positive feedback and/or behavior that is reinforced or rewarded by the coach. Motivational feedback recognizes when the athlete performs well or does something well in training or competition. Providing genuine positive feedback about an athlete’s development and progress help coaches recognize improvement, build autonomy, and competence within their athletes. Coaching research shows that these autonomy-supported environments have been related to self-determination, persistence, and motivation. Autonomy-supportive coaching behaviors are important in helping our athletes perform and succeed (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017).

In closing, the purpose of this article was to look deeper into specific high-performance coaching behaviors and how those coaching behaviors affect performance. These behaviors are: Observing and Performance Analysis, Ask Effective Questions, Facilitate Goal Setting, Provide Developmental Feedback and Motivational Feedback (Wagstaff, Arthur, Hardy, 2017).

References:

Wagstaff, C., Arthur, C., Hardy, L. (2017). The development and initial validation of a measure of
coaching behaviors in a sample of army recruits. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 30: 341-357, 2018.

Deci, E.L. (1975). Intrinsic motivation. New York: Plenum.

Deci, E.L. & Ryan, R.M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology, 49 (3), 182-185. Doi:10.1037/a0012801


Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.


 The Individuality of Coaching
(1/9/2019)
 
   

The Individuality of Coaching


Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle


As someone who loves psychology and finds the intricacies of human interaction fascinating, it is easy to see why I would be drawn to the topic of the individuality of coaching. Most of us would agree that the psychology of each person is quite fascinating. We might also agree that understanding the unique psychology and communication needed in coaching someone would prove to be important in helping our athletes achieve their fullest potential.

Each of our personalities, along with life experiences and the environment in which we live and learn plays a huge part in how we socialize, communicate and interact with others. The ability to relate to others is a key topic in effective communication and coaching.

- How do effective coaches build relationships and trust with their athletes?

- What are some keys to effective communication?

- How does effective communication help us to teach sport skills and evaluate progress in performance?

3 Keys to Effective Communication
• Cues
• Feedback
• Personal Coaching style

In the world of athletics, one of the most important sport skills is the mental ability to focus one’s attention. Previous research in the field of sport psychology has shown that successful athletes have honed their ability to use visual, verbal and kinesthetic cues to intentionally focus their attention. When distracted or not focused on the task at hand, these athletes also use visual, verbal and kinesthetic cues to refocus their attention. Research conducted with Olympic Medals winners indicates that cue systems were most successful when the cues had been established and used by the coach and the athlete in the weeks and months leading up to the Olympic finals (McGuire, Shadle, Zuleger, & Low, 2014). Both coaches and athletes reported that this type of communication was one of the factors that significantly helped the coach-athlete duo to win an Olympic Medal.

As expected, the actual cues a coach uses with athletes depends on both the coach and athlete and their preferences. It is important to understand the individual’s learning style and tailor your cues to that style. Listed below are some of the benefits, of using cues systems, for athletes as well as for coaches.

Cues from the coach help the athletes to:
1. Focus their attention on specifically what the coach considers to be most important in that exact moment – i.e., cues connect the coach with the athlete and are able to provide immediate guidance and attention to the athlete. Cues tell the athlete what they need to do, how to do it, and when to do it.

2. Immediate feedback, learning, and direction - these cues are especially important during practice because they tell the athlete about their progress. Loaded with information, these cues enable the athlete to make decisions about where to focus their time and effort; e.g., on perfecting technique, or developing strength or how to improve footwork/stance.

3. Feel supported psychologically - cues can give the athlete energy, reassurances, inspiration and have a calming effect.

Cues help the coaches to:
1. Direct the athlete’s focus and attention. By using a cue system coaches can provide specific feedback to athletes during practice as well as during competition in a very efficient and precise manner (Keep cue language short and to the point. Can you say it in 3 words vs. 10?) When a coach needs to communicate with an athlete and time is limited, such as in the heat of competition, a cues system can be especially valuable.

2. Immediate feedback, learning, and direction- these cues are especially important during practice because they enable coaches to teach athletes exactly what to do “next” or when they find themselves in a specific situation. Thus, cues help coaches process the information through their eyes, digest it and then teach athletes what to do next.

3. Provide psychological support to athletes and to maintain own emotional balance and mental fortitude - cues help the coach manage their own energy and composure while also helping to support the energy and composure of their athlete(s).

Effective ways to establish and use cues:
Use results from the individual communication style and preferences inventory to create a mutually acceptable plan for improving the efficacy of communication between the coach and the athletes.

How to give cues:
Cue from the ground up: verb body part direction
(Example: Lift your elbow up).

Feedback:
We know for an athlete to learn a skill, the skill must first be performed and programmed into their body’s motor learning. Skill is defined as, “the capability to bring about some desired end result with maximum certainty and minimum time and energy,” (Schmidt and Lee, 2014). A few of the different components involved in the process of learning and performing a skill are the perceptual or sensory processes, along with decision making, and finally the movement. Taking the time to explain why you are doing something and connecting it to the end goal for the athlete helps to strengthen not only trust with the athlete but also understanding the learning that is occurring.

When giving feedback, it might feel like you are saying the same thing over and over. This is part of the learning process. When you teach, you often repeat the same thing, but it helps to vary how you say the same thing until the athlete gets it. This is when you know a cue works. A cue that works for one athlete might not make sense to another and vice versa. The great John Wooden has a book entitled, You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices. This is a great book to further dive in and learn more about the individuality of coaching individuals as well as a team.

How much feedback is too much?
It has been found with a group of elite Olympic athletes that one correction was enough for the athlete when learning a new skill. Coaches must prioritize, from their own coaching style, what is most important. This will help guide which corrections are most important and need to be made first. Some athletes can handle two corrections but for most one correction was enough when learning a new skill. Once the athlete has mastered and made the first correction, you can move on to another.

The issue we often see is that coaches give too much information with their feedback which can often overwhelm the athlete (it is also too much information for the brain to process-thus why the athlete feels overwhelmed). It is best to take it slow when coaching/teaching new skills or correcting/breaking bad habits. Some athletes will adapt and learn quicker, others are less flexible and thus take more time to learn new skills. This is where the psychology of the individual comes into play and understanding how your athlete learns and the style in which they best absorb the information being communicated.

One final note: I would caution learning a new skill or changing the way an athlete does something too close to championship competitions. We want the athlete to feel confident going into major competitions. If this is a new skill you are working on and it is early in the season, I would say go ahead and work at that new skill. Be sure to communicate that information and the learning process to your athlete. For example, “I know we are working on this new batting stance. I want you to stick with this during the next game.”


Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.


 What Can We Learn from Baseball?
(8/14/2018)
 
   

What Can We Learn from Baseball?


Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle


The sport world, and baseball in particular, is filled with incredible, exciting moments. These sport moments bring interest, excitement and fun to many who play the game, coach the game or simply enjoy watching their child play the game. Yet, there is a need for all of us (coaches, parents, sport leaders) to examine the changes needed in our sport system to build a better sport model so that more kids play the game of baseball and have great sport experiences.

The coach and the parent play a central role in the sport experience. Kids learn about baseball and often have their first baseball experience shaped by their first coach (who might also be their parent). For some, this is a great sport experience, leaving the young athlete wanting to come back for more and feeling excited about the next practice. For others, that first experience may be the opposite. Having a negative first experience can cause the young athlete to not want to participate and, at worst, not want to try again, which is something every parent fear. The research on sport is clear: the number one reason why kids begin playing sport is because it is FUN! The number one reason why kids drop out of sport is because it is no longer fun.

It is USA Baseball’s mission to provide a positive and impactful sport experience at every level of the game. It is our mission to have competent, caring coaches who mold and shape our young people into leaders. It is essential that coaches provide a great sport experience that allows our young people to grow into happy, healthy and successful individuals – the same experience every parent wishes for their young athlete.

Coaching Philosophy. Coach/Parent, it is important that you build and write your own Coaching/Parenting Philosophy. It is equally important that parents understand their child’s coach’s sport philosophy. To do this, we start at the beginning. You have already answered the question. What do you value? Hopefully in your coaching/parent statement you have already answered some questions. Here are a few more to help guide your writing:

• At the end of the day, after practice, what are the things that matter to you?

• What will really matter in five, 10, 15 and 20 years?

• What really matters about this year’s baseball experience?

• What are your coaching goals and objectives for today/this season/this year?

• What impact do you want to have on the lives of the athlete’s you coach?

• Who has been the biggest influence on your life, both as a parent and as a coach? Why?

• What would be at least one guiding principle of your life that you would like to see transferred through to your children or team?

• Is there a mantra or quote you live by?

What are the goals and purpose of baseball?

To continue with building your Coaching/Parent Philosophy, take a look at your list of what you value. Now, looking at that list, and the list below, what are the goals and purpose of baseball? What can we learn from baseball and what can we teach our young athletes about life through baseball? Take some time to reflect on your own experiences. Think about all of the things that you have learned from sport. What would you like to teach your athletes? Here are some things you might have missed. Choose and rank your top 5:

• Work Ethic

• Respect

• Confidence

• Responsibility

• Excellence

• Education

• Focus/Concentration

• Interaction with others

• Self-Discipline

• Self-Discovery

• Health/Fitness Wellness

• Leadership

• Competition

• Perseverance

• Optimism

• Mental Strength

• Dedication

• Character

• Integrity

• Sportsmanship

• Personal Growth

• Selflessness

• Teamwork

• Independence

• Interdependence

• Desire to improve

• Ethics

• Commitment (even when it’s hard)

• Determination

• Have fun! Meet new friends!

As coaches and as parents, it is our job to teach and model the process of success. That begins with building a strong foundation on the baseball field and in our homes. Each and every day we have the chance to teach our kids/athletes and talk to them about the items on your list. The things you talk about matter. The language you use, the way your give feedback and encouragement all have a direct impact on the young people you parent or coach. YOU MATTER! I will say that again…COACH, MOM, DAD, YOU MATTER!

Each year, 14 million kids are introduced to the game of baseball through their coach. The child’s experience with you as the coach or parent makes a difference in their life. You both have the power to change a child’s life. The little kids you coach grow up to be big kids. It is hard to believe, but Mike Trout was once a little kid in youth sports learning to play the game of baseball.


Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.


 The Science of GRIT and Why it Matters
(8/14/2018)
 
   

The Science of GRIT and Why it Matters


Beyond the Diamond
By Dr. Anne Shadle


There would be little argument that the topics listed below are important items that lead an athlete to a formula of success. The purpose of this article is to take a brief look at these areas and what science is beginning to show us. First though, take a look at the list below and rank the following items in terms of importance. (Disclaimer: there are no right or wrong answers. This is from your own perspective, what you value and what you think matters most).

1. Talent and natural abilities

2. Preparation and effort

3. Passion and perseverance (We can think of this as a person’s will to do something)

4. Self-discipline and self-regulation

5. Determination and Direction

How does your list look? Why did you organize the topics in the rank order that you did? How would you build your sport curriculum and training plan with teaching these topics included? If we think about this list as a periodization of training mental skills: the periodization is about teaching one skill, leading into the next skill, and building on from the next skill you focus on, talk about and teach from, just like baseball skills.

We all have an idea of what it takes to be successful. This could be sport IQ, genetic gifts, kinetic genius, hard work or even natural talent. However, having these skills does not mean those individuals are or will be the best performers. Science has been trying to give us a better understanding and predication of what it takes to be successful in school, sport, and life. If we look to science to help us identify the keys to high performance and success, we are led to the work of Dr. Angela Duckworth and her research on GRIT.

Dr. Duckworth has found that a significant predictor of success is having GRIT. She shares that “GRIT is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. GRIT is having stamina. GRIT is sticking with your future goals day in and day out, not for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality.” In our five-key model (listed above) it appears the third, “Passion and Perseverance” and the fifth, “Determination and Direction,” would be important traits to emphasize and develop.

If having talent does not automatically make you gritty, how do we build GRIT in kids? For an answer to this question, we look to Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on mindset. Dr. Dweck has focused her work around the question, “How does a person deal with failure?” From her work, she has discovered two types of mindsets. One she has termed as “Fixed Mindset” and the other “Growth Mindset.” Her work suggests we should teach our young athletes to be flexible in their thinking and avoid getting stuck in the rigid “all or nothing” thinking. It is suggested that we teach athletes and kids that failure gives us the opportunity to learn. Failures and mistakes are part of the path to success and mastery.

Science now shows us that our brain grows and changes in response to challenge. We are naturally wired to overcome adversity. How we respond to success and failure both as parents and as a developing athlete is important in terms of building neural pathways and patterns of behavior in the brain. Duckworth’s ground-breaking work on GRIT gives us insight on a few important topics.

To expand on this idea, we (coaches, parents, and athletes) in the sport world often get distracted by talent. We often think talent and natural abilities lead to effort and achievement. However, the problem with talent is that kids who are extremely talented in comparison to their peers have a hard time learning the importance of effort and hard work. Success comes easily to them. A little effort is given, and they easily succeed and master new skills. Unfortunately, the message that is received is that “this is easy-I’m a natural.” This idea is also reinforced by coaches, parents, and others simply by saying, “Wow! You are so talented!” Nevertheless, other athletes catch up or the talented kids are now surrounded by other talented kids when they arrive at another level (we see this a lot with college freshman). The rigid “all or nothing” thinking kicks in, appearing as frustration with fixed mindset thoughts like “I shouldn’t have to work that hard. I should naturally excel, and win, as I always have.”

We mend this issue by teaching that effort absolutely matters. The repeated message throughout the sport environment is emphasized by the celebration of improvement within teammates and recognition of effort. In regard to the display of talent, we recognize passion and perseverance. Focus can be on the thrill of being a baseball player, being in your athletic body, hitting well, running fast around the bases, throwing far, the pure joy in simply playing the game, and enjoying time with our friends. If we absorb all of this information and put it into a simple the formula, the formula for success looks like the following:

Success = Preparation x Will x Effort.

Additional information:

To check in with how you are doing with your own grittiness take some time to read, reflect and discuss the questions below:

10 Questions: How Gritty Are You?

1. New ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones.

2. Setbacks don't discourage me. I don't give up easily.

3. I often set a goal bu tlater choose to pursue a different one.

4. I am a hard worker.

5. I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete.

6. I finish whatever I begin.

7. My interests change from year to year.

8. I am dilligent. I never give up.

9. I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest.

10. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.

Duckworth, A. (2017). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. London: Vermilion. For more information check out Dr. Angela Duckworth’s book: GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

To check in with how you are doing with your own mindset take some time to read, reflect and discuss the information listed below:



Adapted from Dr. Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset. For more information check out Dr. Carol Dweck’s book: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.


 Capacity: Physical and Neurological
(8/14/2018)
 
   

Capacity: Physical and Neurological


Sport Performance Lab
By Dr. Peter Gorman and Dr. Anne Shadle


The ability to compensate is known as an athlete’s capacity, or resistance to change. Capacity has foundation in both the physical and neurological aspects of performance and should be analyzed in an environment that equals or exceeds game speed. This article will explain both the physical and neurological sides of capacity and how they can impact performance.

Physical

The center fielder is running into catch the ball and pulls his hamstring. On the very next play the shortstop ranges left for the ball and as he does, pulls his groin. How many times have you heard a coach say, “I can’t believe what happened to my athlete. He was in the best shape of his life, and while performing a simple task on the field, end ups with a season ending injury.”

Yes, some injuries are instantaneous- for example if you were running, stepped on a rut and twisted your ankle. However, most injuries are accumulative in nature. What this means is that asymmetries are slowly created in the movement cycle, until the athlete can no longer compensate. Then, just like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, the athlete’s ability to compensate is exceeded and an injury occurs.

Why tell an athlete that their movement screen looks good on a static forward lunge, knowing that an athlete’s capacity to compensate might be fooling the examiner? Does looking good mean that the athlete is going to perform well? Does the good-looking lunge guarantee that as the athlete accelerates at game speed, they will also have equal leg speed, equal acceleration left and right and equal contact and flight time? The 30-yard sprint (in an OptoJump system) performed by USA Baseball is a Game Speed test that exceeds an athlete’s capacity to compensate. In less than five seconds, this test can answer many important questions on lower extremity imbalance. Once the imbalance is shown to exist, THEN employing various movement screens can help pinpoint the cause.

It was not until increased demand and exertion was applied that imbalances appeared, and potential injuries were brought to light. Knowing that athletes harbor varying degrees of capacity to compensate for their imbalances, we have to test the athlete at the highest demand possible so that we are looking at the true athlete and NOT the compensatory process. This high demand testing is designed to exceed an athlete’s capacity, thus eliminating the compensatory ability to mask asymmetries and imbalances. Remember, we never want the game to be the evaluator. Often in this high-tech world, many are still marveling at an athlete’s sprint time, not knowing if the fundamental movements are symmetrical or not. It is all about capacity…we must identify and correct all asymmetries so that they do not accumulate and eventually result in injury caused by simple and/or complex game movements.

Neurological

Ted Williams, known to many as the greatest hitter of all time once said, “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.” Handling stressful conditions, controlling emotions, suppressing distractors, and quick speed of processing are just a few of the neurological functions that the wonderful game of baseball will constantly test in the game. What we find is a person can be prepared physically to perfection, but performance will suffer if their brain is not functioning at its optimal capacity.

We now know in neuroscience that the amygdala is the emotional center of the brain. Every region of the brain can function normally or in standards of deviation above and below normal that affect its function. Without diving too deep, we have also learned that the amygdala has two other sub regions that control emotions. As heartrate increases the amygdala can change its firing pattern. This will allow emotions to change and, in some cases, rage, thus creating a more indecisive and inefficient player. All players must know that training their brain is as important, if not more so, than training their body.

Each region of the brain can deviate from normalcy, lessening overall brain balance, function and capacity. At the same time brain speed can slow, which in effect also lessen the athlete’s capacity to perform optimally. As the brain goes out of balance, this can reflect itself in personality changes, or one’s ability to command life’s situations. The way your body can slow and go out of balance, your brain can also slow and go out of balance. As the brain slows, it effects its processing speed and reaction time will increase, in turn effecting all aspects of performance. It is obvious that if an athlete has tremendous brain speed capacity, they would be able to compensate for a longer period of time before a serious condition is recognized. Anytime we determine brain speed is slowing, we must ask the question why, and make sure that we identify the problem. The answer may be as simple as improving hydration or getting a better night’s sleep. If a more serious condition is developing, it is always better to understand it early on, so that the most precise and effective treatment can be given.

Much like increasing demand and load can unearth imbalances physically, the same can be done neurologically. To make sure that we are identifying, nourishing, and balancing the brain properly, we recommend the BrainHQ.com cognitive platform. Brain HQ has numerus validated, peer-reviewed published papers which ensures that their cognitive trainings are as effective as possible. Designed by brain scientists, Brain HQ exercises have shown to improve a host of cognitive abilities directly related to sports performance like reaction time, processing speed, visual acuity, attention, and memory. Improvements in cognitive abilities and capacity can not only lead to more effective and efficient on-field performance, but also transfer to life’s daily tasks.

At USA Baseball, we take pride in not only assessing the physical attributes of our athletes, but also the neurological side as well. Evaluation and attention to both the physical and neurological attributes of the athlete is highly recommended in any sport. By being more aware of your physical and neurological strengths or weaknesses, all athletes will be better prepared to help reduce injury and reach their own unique OPTIMAL performance.


Dr. Peter Gorman is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is widely referred to as the developer of heart rate monitor technology and owns seven major patents in the United States and Canada. He was named President of Microgate USA in 2010 and became an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport Chiropractic College in 2012. He later joined CourtSense, developing innovative and logical progression that helps athletes attain symmetry and better coordination. Dr. Gorman has previous experience working with the United States Military, as well as sports leagues and franchises around the world including those associated with Major League Baseball, FIFA, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and the United States Olympic Committee.

Dr. Anne Shadle, Ph.D., is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, is a certified consultant in Sport Psychology CC-AASP and is a member of the United States Olympic Committee’s Sport Psychology registry. She also serves on the Athlete Advisory Committee for USA Track and Field (USATF) and currently is the President-appointed committee chair for Psychological Services for USATF. She is heavily involved with coaching education and certification for the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) and USATF. Shadle received her Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences from the University of Nebraska, where she also ran track and field. She was a two-time National Champion in the mile and 1500 meter distances before going on to run professionally for Reebok and compete in the 2008 Olympic Trials.