Tapping into the Working Memory for Athletic Prowess

An athlete neurons, strategizing his next move

Literature overflows with insights on executive functions and working memory. Ross and Alloway, for instance, have dedicated an entire book to the subject, shedding light on the intricate relationship between working memory and sports.

Read more: Tapping into the Working Memory for Athletic Prowess

The Role of Working Memory in Sports

Essentially, the working memory enables athletes to momentarily store and process sensory information. This capability allows strategizing during games, fostering focus and concentration – elements indispensable for an athlete’s success. However, there are instances when sidelining the working memory can be beneficial.

The Skiing Example & The Brain Mechanics

Alloway and Ross share an illustrative example in their book – learning to ski. Instructors bombard beginners with a multitude of techniques to safely descend slopes. Attempting to tick off each instruction mentally can lead to blunders and crashes. But why?

Neurologically speaking, the sequence of instructions is processed by the working memory situated in the prefrontal cortex. They then proceed to the cerebellum – the brain’s coordination center, to ‘program’ the movements. Ultimately, the motor cortex receives directives from the cerebellum to command muscles to move accordingly.

To excel, one might need to momentarily bypass the working memory. According to Alloway and Ross, this activates the Cerebellum-motor cortex loop (c-m-c loop). It takes over when movements are experienced, not pondered upon. Sensory inputs get directly processed in the cerebellum, which then communicates with the motor cortex.

Hence, while the working memory plays a role in sport-specific situations, it can be counterproductive during fundamental movement learning. Relying on instinct and developing methods to bypass the working memory can be advantageous. The book cites fear and fatigue as factors that can weaken the working memory’s efficiency.

Applying the Knowledge

Wondering how to implement this knowledge in real-life training? Discover innovative ways to adapt practice drills and understand the theory behind dual-task exercises. These exercises inhibit the executive system, including the working memory, during movement learning. Stay tuned for more insights on this topic.

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