Head in the Game The Mental Engineering of the World’s Greatest Athletes

Brandon Sneed

Head in the Game is about the growing use of new technologies to provide feedback on what is taking place in the brain and to use feedback to train the brain and to train the integration of the mind, vision, and body to enhance sports performance. Becoming aware of how our mind is enhancing our performance, or is getting in the way, is important to improve all visual abilities, not just those related to sports. As Yogi Berra is quoted as saying, “90% of the game is half mental”. The technologies are new, but the goals haven’t changed. To be successful, the athletes need to take what they learn from the electronics and practice to make it habitual. It doesn’t matter what you do in practice or in therapy if you can’t consistently apply your new skills to your challenges. The goal is to replace a less efficient behavior with a more efficient behavior and to have the more efficient behavior become more automatic than what you were doing before. The more automatic the behavior becomes, the more resilient it will be to fatigue and stress.

Brandon Sneed’s first example is using an EEG to provide feedback. “I do best when I put myself in a mind-set of relaxed control – not straining, but working, feeling zoned in but calm, thinking only of moving forward…. Most people need at least thirty sessions to get lasting effects from EEG training. Some, even more… It is work which may be why EEG training hasn’t caught on. It’s easy to pop a pill and see when happens, but EEG training feels almost like going to the gym.” This is the same mind-set that patients need to develop when they are learning to align their eyes, to improve processing with their amblyopic eye, and to focus better and to track better. In vision therapy feedback comes from specially designed targets which may also incorporate new technologies.

Staremberg_10

“The reason why golf is so difficult is because you’re starting the action. Your mind wants to be in control, but the golf swing has to be done on a subconscious level. It’s impossible to think about the thousands of muscles and tendons and ligaments that have to fire in a perfect sequence in a fraction of a second.” I recently blogged on How We Read. The visual components of reading are as complex as the components of swinging a golf club and are even more difficult to observe. And, while both acts are too fast and too complicated to be directed through conscious attention, you quiet your conscious mind while swinging a golf club while in reading your brain must be simultaneously combining current input with prior input from the page, along with previously stored input, while also forecasting what is coming next.

110415-F-QL239-010.JPG

Brandon Sneed appreciates the importance of the placebo and nocebo effects. “Then there’s this stunning example of the nocebo effect: a study at the Oxford Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain in 2011, led by professor of anaesthetic science Irene Tracey. While studying the efficacy of an opioid drug, she found that something that should be effective can be rendered useless after a subject is told it won’t work. That’s right: even though something is scientifically proven to help people – such as a pill – if people decide it’s not going to work, sometimes it won’t.” Supporting people should be an integral component of all care from medicine, to surgery, to therapy, to coaching, to teaching. This is not in lieu of effective treatment, it augments it. If someone becomes a victim and develops learned helplessness. If they become a passive patient instead of a person involved with their care. If the expectations that are placed on them are too high or too soon and they feel that they can’t, working to change that attitude must be part of their care. The teacher is more important than the curriculum. The therapist is more important than the technique. And for coaches see The Talent Code

recycle-1767735__340

“To master the mind, first master the body.” The Western World separated the mind and the body at the beginning of the Enlightenment because the connections could not be proven at time. It took hundreds of years for this accepted wisdom to be reversed. So while we are mostly training the brain, we are doing it through the body. “Keeping the mind relaxed yet focused for extended periods of time is hard and a skill almost everyone takes for granted.”

“No performance-enhancing drug or piece of technology can compare to a good night’s sleep.” Research on sleep clearly indicates that it is our brain that needs to rest and not our bodies. This is a little like turning your electronic device off and on to allow it to reset, but our brains take more time.

teen_sleep

I share Brandon Sneed’s amazement as it is expressed in the following excerpt. “This brings us to one to one of the most stunning thing’s I’ve learned so far. We have five senses, right? We experience those senses because of specialized cells throughout our body called sensory receptors. Everything you feel, hear, smell, taste, and see comes from those receptors sending the information they gather to your brain. Of all the sensory receptors we have, 70 percent are in our eyes alone. That’s 260 million (130 million per eye) receptors taking information in through the eyes and sending it to the brain, by way of 2.4 million nerve fibers. This adds up to our eyes sending our brain 109 gigabytes of data every second.

Larry_Fitzgerald_2015

 

“Larry Fitzgerald, the great Arizona Cardinals wide receiver, did vision training as a child with his grandfather, an optometrist. ‘Parents need to understand,’ Fitzgerald once said, ‘that you need over 17 visual skills to succeed. Seeing 20/20 is just one of those. Vision problems can have a serious impact.’ And not just in sports, he added, but also ‘on a child’s education.’”

 

The Power of Play

Sleights of Mind

How We Read

How We Read

Despite the continuing controversy over the best way to teach reading and over the best time to teach a child to read, a great deal is known and agreed upon about the hidden intricacies of accomplished reading. Reading may seem simple once it has been mastered, but it is amazingly complex. It is dependent on the interaction of many mechanisms which must be coordinated with precise timing. This coordination involves multiple areas of the brain. The evolutionary forces which selected for these mechanisms had their effects long before reading was invented. Areas of the brain which evolved for other purposes must be retrained and coordinated to make reading possible. While one of the functions of vision therapy is to help people develop visual skills whose visual problems make it difficult for them to read, most people learn to read without this intervention. I am more amazed that most people learn to read well than I am that some people have difficulty mastering reading. Complex systems such as reading and sending a rocket into space have multiple vulnerabilities. Prior suggestions that all reading problems have the same cause are as misguided as the assumption that all rocket failures are due to defective O-rings and that only one system can fail at a time.

rocket

The visual process of reading is not as it seems. Our eyes do not move smoothly across the page. As with most of what we do, the process of efficient reading is controlled subconsciously and is not available for our conscious inspection. Our eyes make stops (fixations) and jumps (saccades) 4 times a second as we read. We do not take in visual information during saccades although our brain continues to process information. This phenomenon also happens every time we blink and whenever we look from one object to another. Although our visual input is discontinuous, our perception is continuous.

Frequent eye movements are necessary to gather information because we only see a very small area clearly at a time. (see Active Vision) Our eyes move from one area of interest to another area of interest as our brains construct the illusion that we are seeing everything clearly simultaneously. The clarity of our vision decreases sharply as objects are farther from the point of fixation. Only the central 5 degrees has clarity equivalent to 20/20. This correlates with 5 letter spaces. During each fixation which lasts 1/5 of a second, input takes place, new information is processed and combined with what has been read before, our attention shifts to where our eyes will move next, and we predict what the next word will be.

focus

When we think of vision, we think of our focal visual system; the primarily conscious component of our vision which enables us to see clearly, identify what we are seeing, localize it, and to see it in color. The ambient visual system, which works in parallel with the focal system, is primarily subconscious and outside of our voluntary control. It contributes to our balance, helps guide our eye movements, keeps our vision from smearing when our eyes move, and stabilizes our world even when we are moving or objects are moving around us. When this system is poorly developed or poorly integrated, people tend to be unaware that their perception of the world or of the printed page is different from that of others. Dysfunctions of this system become recognizable when the changes are sudden as is caused by head injuries, by excessive movement like spinning in circles, or by the ingestion too much alcohol.

spinning

To process what we see efficiently, our eyes must be focused clearly and aligned precisely at each fixation, 4 times a second, and sustained over extended periods of time. If this alignment is off even hundredths of a degree, the information being sent to the brain will have increased ambiguity.

The connection between our eyes and our brain is different than the connections between the rest of our body and our brain. Each eye sends half of its information to each side of the brain. Everything seen to our left is sent to the right cerebral hemisphere by each eye and everything seen to our right is sent to the left cerebral hemisphere by each eye. Efficient readers land 1/3 of the way into a word so more attention is focused on the beginning of the word to facilitate word recognition. It is now recognized that this causes information from the beginning of a word to go to the right hemisphere first while information from the end of the word goes directly to the left hemisphere. The left hemisphere has the primary responsibility for interpreting language. It is not yet understood how this information is recombined in less than 1/5 of a second with information from the end of the word reaching the left hemisphere prior to information from the beginning of the word.

viscrowd

When children start to read, they look at every letter and put the letters together to recognize the word. Not looking at the letters in the proper spatial sequence will make identifying the word more difficult. As the system becomes more efficient, words begin to be processed as single units. Accomplished readers process longer words at almost the same speed that they process shorter words which is known as the word length effect. But if the letters or words are too close together, neighboring letters and words start to interfere as would happen when fine black and white lines are too close together. School books and worksheets are often too crowded which creates more problems for some students than for others. Adults are not immune to this effect. (see Visual Crowding)

The average reading speed for high school students is 250 words per minute which is about 4 words per second or one word per fixation. A reasonable adult reading speed is 350 words per minute which means that we are reading 6 words a second or 6 words for each 4 fixations. We do not read faster by moving our eyes faster. We read faster by taking in more information with each fixation and by reducing the number of errors which are recorded by eye tracking instruments as retrograde saccades. Children start by reading orally and then progress to subvocalizing words as they read. Proficient readers stop subvocalizing most words and recognize the word and the word’s meaning without activating the speech areas of the brain. Persistent subvocalization constrains reading speed.

Over time we develop a sight vocabulary of thousands of words. Words are stored in what is known as the word-form area which develops in the same area of the brain that we use to store information about faces and names. The ability to visualize words enables the development of our sight vocabulary and is essential for successful spelling. When we recognize the shape of the face of someone that we know, a name should be associated with it. Likewise, when we recognize a shape in the form of a word that we know, a name should be associated with it.

What we read is primarily retained in visual images and accessed by recalling those images. As important as language is to our thinking, visual processing and recall develops before language. Visual thinking continues to be important although we may be less aware of when we are using visual processing that we are aware of using language.

When we think of reading and reading problems, we don’t tend to think of these low-level skills, but like many things that we do, it is difficult for our high-level skills to shine if we haven’t developed mastery and automaticity of the prerequisite low-level skills. This is as true of musicians, surgeons, athletes and artists as it is of readers. It should be mentioned that there are also low-level auditory processing skills that have a role in learning to read. As the visual system is sensitive to crowding in space, the auditory system is sensitive to crowding in time. Some people do not process streams of sounds as quickly as do others and coordinating what is seen and what is heard is important in the process of learning to read.

Deaf_School_Boys

All of this is not to disregard the importance of high-level processing.  Working memory is necessary to assimilate current input with what has just been read.  Comprehension is dependent on an adequate vocabulary and an information and experience base which enables the reader to relate what we are currently reading to our stored knowledge.  Strong language abilities form a rich foundation for reading.

A lot has been said about 10,000 hours being necessary to develop expertise in a complex skill. If a child has been reading daily from the time that they are able to read until they graduate from high school, they will have read over 10,000 hours. Barring complications, a child is expected to be a competent reader long before that time as long as they have been engaged in what they are reading and have not been reading only because they have been forced to read. (see The Talent Code)03282012Casa_hogar_niñas_tlahuac30

For more information see:

Reading in the Brain

Reading in the Brain, Part Two

What if Everybody Understood Child Development? Part 1

Visual word form area in visual cortex remembers words as pictures

What if Everybody Understood Child Development? Part 3

Rae Pica

 

Explicit learning may get the facts across more quickly than learning through exploration and discovery, but the latter has far more meaning to children and stays with them longer.

Adult personality is built on the child’s play. Among the social skills learned are the ability to share, cooperate, negotiate, compromise, make and revise rules, and to take the perspective of others. Play provides opportunities for children to meet and solve problems – the number-one ability they will most assuredly require in this rapidly changing world. It helps children express their thoughts and feelings and to deal with stress. To cope with fears they can’t yet understand or articulate. Through play, children acquire literacy, mathematical, and creative skills. Make-believe play, in particular, has been linked to self-regulations skills, which in turn have been linked to greater academic success than IQ has. How is social development supposed to be fostered? Do we imagine that one grows up and suddenly knows how to effectively communicate and collaborate and to be part of a community?

a0079-000066

Everyone benefits from a break. As far back as 1885 and 1901, the research is quite clear on this: both children and adults learn better and more quickly when their efforts are distributed (breaks are included) than when concentrated (work is conducted in longer periods).

Outdoors, children can engage in behaviors (loud, messy, and boisterous) considered unacceptable and annoying indoors. And because recess is a break from structure and expectations, children have an opportunity to take control of their world, which is a rarity in their lives and which offers more preparation for adulthood than does memorizing the state capitals.

kidsf

waterfountin

Research has demonstrated that children learn better when they learn on their own or from each other.

Nowhere else in the world do standardized tests play such a large role in education. Standardized tests promote the myth of “one right answer”. There is a real danger to our children if they grow up believing there is only one right answer to every question.

Alina Tugend, author of Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, said that as a result of all the pressure placed on them to be perfect, today’s children lack resiliency, a key characteristic in happy, successful adults. The first time they make a big mistake, they fall apart. Additionally, she said, we’re raising a generation of kids afraid to take risks and to try creative things. They just want to “stick to what they know, pass that test, get that A, and move, on.”

Just because the things in children’s lives have changed, it doesn’t mean the children themselves have.

The homework debate has a long history, dating back to the 1920s and the 1930s. But one has to wonder why there’s any debate at all, when the research clearly shows no correlation between academic achievement and homework in elementary school.

      There’s also the value of relaxation, which is both a learned skill and a necessary one. Acquiring the ability to relax enables children to find a quiet place inside themselves that allows them to cope – to maintain control over their bodies and minds. The child who learns to relax will have the ability to manage stress and therefore lead a healthier – and more serene – life. But it will also ensure a more energetic life, as stress is most certainly an energy robber. There’s no debate over whether learning is important for kids. The thing is, they’re learning all the time; it’s just unfortunate that learning about such things as oneself, nature, and stress management are not considered as worthy today as are math equations and spelling words.

serene

 

People tend to misunderstand what positive reinforcement is. Ellen Ava Sigler said, “They believe that positive reinforcement is sweets, treats, and empty praise, when positive reinforcement is positive attention. Simply acknowledging a child’s work or talking to a child about what they’re doing is positive reinforcement. The child who has come to expect an intrinsic reward – who has become convinced that everything she does is worthy of praise or prizes – will be the adolescent or adult who can’t handle life’s realities.

I just read a review of a soon to be released book entitled, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. It struck me what a small percentage of self-help books are on improving your math skills, reading sills, or note-taking abilities and how many are on themes like emotional agility. There is a disconnect between how we are pressuring children in the educational race with narrow goals with the assumption that this will help them later in life and the problems that they are most likely to have as adults – those without a single correct answer. The goal of education should be to prepare the whole child for both ethical and pragmatic reasons. School has many opportunities and should have the expertise to help children develop skills other than math and reading which have been determined to be more important to their ultimate happiness and success in life.

diverse

Reclaiming Childhood:Letting Children Be Children in Our Achievement Oriented Society

The Other Side of the Report Card: Assessing Students’ Social, Emotional, and Character Development

The End of Average

What if Everybody Understood Child Development? Part 2

Rae Pica

 

According to Marcy Guddemi, executive director of the Gesell Institute of Child Development, children are not reaching their developmental milestones any sooner than they did in 1925 when Arnold Gesell first did his research. “One of our misguided expectations right now in the education field is that every child should leave kindergarten reading. Well, not every child is going to leave kindergarten reading.” A child’s development absolutely cannot be accelerated or hurried in any way.

asleep

Politicians pander to the ridiculous notion that education is a race. And teachers – from preschool to the primary grades – are being forced to abandon their understanding of what is developmentally appropriate and teach content they know to be wrong for kids.

commoncoreK.jpg

Demanding that children perform skills for which they’re not yet ready creates fear and frustration in them.

Childhood is not a dress rehearsal for adulthood. It is a separate, unique, and very special phase of life. And we’re essentially wiping it out of existence in a misguided effort to ensure children get ahead.

vict

We do have a great deal of research detailing the impact of stress on the learning process. Dr. William Stixrud sums it up quite nicely when he writes, “stress hormones actually turn off the parts of the brain that allow us to focus attention, understand ideas, commit information to memory and reason critically.”

Studio Screaming Microphone Yelling Boy Sing

The experts insist that today’s children are no less safe than children of my generation. Stranger danger, which tends to top the list of parents’ fears, truly is a myth. According to the U. S. Department of Justice statistics on violent crimes, between 1973 and 2002, out of every thousand children kidnapped, just one of two of them were abducted by strangers. In fact, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, children are four times more likely to die of heart disease than to be kidnapped by a stranger.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA stranger

The pressure for students to spend more time on academics and to pass test after test – to win the race that education has become – is so great that basic human needs are being ignored and unmet.

  • Numerous studies have demonstrated that physically active students perform better in, and have better attitudes toward, school.
  • Movement is the young child’s preferred – and most effective – mode of learning, but we make them sit still regardless. Why do we insist on teaching children in any way other than via their preferred – and most effective – method?

When children move over, under, around, through, beside, and near objects and others, they better grasp the meaning of these prepositions and geometry concepts. When they perform a “slow walk” or skip “lightly”, adjectives and adverbs become much more than abstract ideas. When they’re given the opportunity to physically demonstrate such action words as stomp, pounce, stalk, or slither – or descriptive words such as smooth, strong, gentle, or enormous – word comprehension is immediate and long-lasting. The words are in context, as opposed to being a mere collection of letters.

Children_climbing_a_tree_in_the_Dadaab_refugee_camp,_north-east_Kenya_(5942667619)

The Mislabled Child

Thinking Goes to School:Piaget’s Theory in Practice

Reading Instruction in Kindergarten

The Intuitive Parent

 

Stephen Camarata

Stephen Camarata defines intuitive parenting as “focusing on your child, enjoying the moment, and reacting naturally to whatever your baby is doing.” This may sound simplistic and naïve, but we now have research to support our intuitions. Continue reading