New York Times contributor Schonbrun takes readers on a sometimes-tangled but revealing tour of the minds of winning athletes.
A baseball player at bat has a few milliseconds to decide whether to swing at a pitch. Some of that decision will hinge on experience, on the neural pathways telling the batter that this is the sort of thing the eye has seen and the brain has processed before. But in the end, the heavy lifting is being done in the fusiform gyrus, the part of the brain that “picks up baseballs like bird-watchers spot a warbler in the bush,” or other parts of the brain that govern perceptions and especially the timing of our responses to them. Schonbrun’s principals in his sometimes–science-thick, sometimes–jock-talky narrative are tasked with scouting and training promising athletes. This is no easy matter, especially given that neuro-training, so to speak, isn’t something that coaches and managers have adapted themselves to—yet. But more, they and other sports-oriented neuroscientists are “tracing the essential correlates of a skill,” using imaging and scientific method alike to chase down the ineffable—e.g., the workings of the mind of a star athlete like, say, Stephen Curry, who “was considered to be too slow-footed and unathletic by scouts that many teams passed on him in the NBA draft.” In studying anticipation, decision, and response, some scientists fall back on the old notion that it takes 10,000 hours to become expert at something, which occasions a problem. “No one has any idea why it takes so long,” Schonbrun writes, “because no one knows what it actually means to be skilled.” But even so, researchers are constantly gaining insight, and their findings are likely to figure prominently in how athletes are recruited and trained for optimal performance in the future.
It’s not quite in the same league as Moneyball, but readers interested in the applications of neuroscience to everyday life will find plenty of value here.