Harnessing Mirror Neurons for Superior Sports Coaching

Mirror neurons in sports coaching illustration.

In the world of sports coaching, one of the primary challenges is the effective teaching of sport-specific movements. The fascinating tool at the disposal of our unique brain is called “mirror neurons.” This article delves deep into the power of these neurons and how they influence motor learning in sports.

Read more: Harnessing Mirror Neurons for Superior Sports Coaching

Understanding Motor Learning

Motor learning, frequently used in the realm of sports training, can be approached in two distinct ways: implicitly or explicitly. Implicit learning is characterized by subconscious absorption, typically achieved using clever tricks or specific rules. On the other hand, explicit learning involves coaches translating the knowledge of a particular action into its actual execution. So, which method truly reigns supreme? Research by Dutch scholar Lot Verburgh indicates that talented athletes can grasp more in less time using implicit learning.

The Marvel of Mirror Neurons

One intriguing facet of explicit learning is emulating movements based on a coach’s instructions. Our extraordinary brain has the capacity to mirror someone just by observing their actions, all thanks to our mirror neurons. These are specialized nerve cells located in the motor cortex, responsible for programming our movements. Interestingly, these neurons are activated both when performing an action and merely witnessing it. For instance, when watching someone kick a ball, the same neurons light up as if you were executing the kick yourself.

Real-life Implications of Mirror Neurons

Research has investigated mirror neurons’ function in humans. A concise explanation is that these neurons foster shared experiences and intimacy, enabling individuals to empathize or predict another person’s intentions. In a fascinating study involving basketball players, professionals were asked to predict, based on players’ postures in various video snippets, whether a ball would make it into the basket. Experts, with the help of their mirror neurons and basketball knowledge, could make accurate predictions, suggesting these neurons play a role in anticipating behavior.

Effective Movement Teaching: An Explicative Approach

Teaching sports-specific movements can be efficiently done using the explicit approach, emphasizing the importance of accurate demonstration by coaches. The mere act of observing can trigger our mirror neurons, facilitating learning. Take, for example, the ‘Coerver’ method in football developed by Wiel Coerver. This method emphasizes isolated practice of football techniques, translating knowledge into action. From a neuropsychological perspective, this explicit method might indeed be optimal for teaching foundational movements, especially to young children.

A Slight Nuance

It’s essential to acknowledge that mirror neurons also overlap with implicit learning. They can be activated during numerous sports-specific situations, without any need for a coach’s demonstration. Simply watching can activate them.

A Winning Combination

A constructive task for coaches could involve encouraging players to learn a movement at home. By searching for a specific move on platforms like YouTube, they not only choose which movement to learn but also, by watching, use their mirror neurons to assimilate the technique. While this method’s efficacy isn’t scientifically backed yet, it poses an intriguing research avenue.


In wrapping up, mirror neurons play a significant role in both learning and anticipating sports movements. To showcase these neurons in action, here’s a video where you can witness them at play – or perhaps it’s just nerves!

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