“Since muscle control obviously originates from the brain, and the brain expands when new skills are learned involving new muscles and new sequences of muscles, it can be stated that athleticism originates in the brain. Therefore, success on the court or the field depends as much on the neurology as it does on physiology.“ - Amy Venditta
You read that right. Athleticism originates in the brain. Let’s explore this.
What's so important about the relationship between the brain, nervous system, and body?
These parts of the body are what determines the way we behave, think, and feel. They are all interconnected. When it comes to sport psychology, the study of the brain and nervous system are the main focus. These two things combined hold the power to the actions of our bodies, both voluntary and involuntary.
The nervous system is the major controlling, regulatory, and communicating system in the body. It is also the center of all mental activity including thought, learning, and memory.
There are two major systems involved:
The central nervous system (CNS) - brain & spinal cord
The Peripheral nervous system (PNS) - All of the nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord that carry messages to and from the central nervous system.
Then we branch off into two divisions of the PNS:
The somatic nervous system (SNS) regulates the actions of muscles and the autonomic nervous system (ANS), regulates involuntary actions (breathing, heart rate).
Let’s think about this from a newborn baby standpoint. All babies come out breathing, sucking, and swallowing. They don’t know much else, other than the human instinctual responses that we are all born with. As a newborn, our motor cortex area in the brain is just beginning to develop. As time passes, motor skills like lifting the head, crawling, and other simple gross movements develop.
Although these gross movements appear so simple and innate, there is a complexity behind getting the body to act. This process puts all the emphasis on the brain, which takes us back to the opening thought of “athleticism originating in the brain.”
The process begins as an electric signal that originates in the brain. Nerves and neurons carry this electric signal through the spinal cord and to the desired muscle to then follow through with an action, a movement. To think that this all happens within a fraction of a second is mind-blowing.
With the process of signaling movement to the body in mind, let’s go back to the newborn baby. Over time, new movements and the muscles behind those movements continue to be discovered, with the brain keeping notes and remembering for the future. Picture a diagram, a diagram that has all the movements and correlating muscles mapped out in an organized fashion. Every time there is a new movement performed, our brains keep track and add it to this diagram.
“Therefore, it can also be assumed that as athletes learn new skills involving the manipulation of different muscles in different ways, this information is added onto the muscle diagram. Thus the brain is constantly growing wider and changing to accommodate new and different skills.” (source)
“If we assume that the brain equals behavior, meaning that everything is encompassed within the brain, then it can also be assumed that athletic ability is in the brain. However, much like the nature versus nurture argument, it is argued as to where athletic skill originates; whether or not one is born athletic.” (source)
To carry this a step further, it has been said that athletic ability is more than just brain function, it involves brain structure. This adds on another layer. However, ONE thing that enhances all brain activity, function, and performance is PRACTICE, REPETITION. Although we are all born with different brains that are structurally different based on genetics, the areas of our brains that perform movements are developed and improved through repetition and practice.
There is no way around it.
And our brains are at the center of it ALL.
This blog was originally published by RISE Athletes.
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