Neuroimaging shows the effect of expert practice in top athletes; their brains unsurprisingly show much greater activation in the attention and motor skills regions of the brain than less high performing athletes. Athletes can also learn to ‘see and feel’ their skills in their imagination and enhancing them visually. Equally, their skills & motor memories – when having been practised for hours before sleep – seemingly continue to improve in the brain during the hours of sleep as a form of ‘off-line’ learning’, an amazing finding by Matthew Walker, who states that “it is not practice that makes perfect, but practice followed by a good night’s sleep that makes perfect”.
For amateur sports, especially team sports, the expert training lies in the ability to read cues from fellow players without having to shout as well as the ability to spatially place the opponents and to understand their strategies and speed. There is, for example, such a thing as football IQ, which is defined as having good executive function; the ability to plan and execute an action, such as to pass or not to pass or to shoot.
Whatever the level of sports you play today, it is dead certain that the more you practice the better you get. Things you can’t do yet is because you have not practiced them. Simple. Sports coaches – good ones – play a huge role in enhancing skills, even in amateur sports. Expertise is a skill that can be learned! So, if you want to be the next Williams or Nadal, the best way to start is to start practising; your brain will receive a solid ‘skills’ boost from all that practice, not to mention the increased oxygen to the brain during sports practice. A win-win for your ever more clever brains.
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