Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The A - Z of Sports Vision - Quantum Biology

“Q” should really be for the Quiet Eye, but as I've already talked about that, it’s an opportunity to talk about a sport that’s rarely mentioned in terms of sports vision – pigeon racing. The term quantum biology was first coined by Edwin Schrödinger (of Schrödinger’s cat fame) in 1944. It’s always seemed miraculous that birds are able to navigate so accurately over such long distances. It’s been assumed that they do this by using the earth’s magnetic field, but it’s only recently that our understanding of quantum physics has enabled us to speculate on how they actually do it. As soon as one enters the world of quantum physics, things start to get seriously weird pretty quickly. For instance, in quantum superposition, particles can have different states such as a particle or a wave, until you observe them. To take the idea to an absurd level, Schrödinger suggested that a cat in a sealed box could be both alive and dead until the box was opened. There is also the phenomenon of “entanglement” in which unconnected particles influence each other, so that measuring one affects the measurements of the other. It’s this process of entanglement that is thought to take place within the bird’s retina that enables it to navigate. The idea is that a photon entering the bird’s eye releases a pair of molecules, each with an unpaired electron. Each of these electrons has an angular velocity, or spin, that can be altered by a magnetic field. Under quantum entanglement, the spin of one electron will affect the spin of the other, no matter how far apart they are. The birds might even have an image of the magnetic field that overlaps the visual image. So far, the only suggested use of quantum biology in humans is that it may explain how we are able to distinguish different smells. But it’s early days; who knows what we may find out in the future? David Donner

Monday, 2 September 2013

The A - Z of Sports Vision - Paralysis by Analysis

Take something you do every day without thinking about it – brushing your teeth, for instance, Next time you brush your teeth try and think about the precise movements that you are making with your hand. If you manage to keep this up for a while, you’ll find that brushing your teeth is no longer the simple process that it was on the previous occasion. If you start thinking about the mechanics of a routine process that we normally do sub-consciously, the result is that our performance deteriorates: “paralysis by analysis”. This is particularly common in sport: when something goes wrong, it’s very tempting to start analysing the mechanics of what happened, with the result that a blip becomes a catastrophe. Jackson & Beilock (2008) asked skilled soccer players to dribble the ball through a series of pylons while paying attention to the side of their foot that most recently contacted the ball. Their performance was worse in terms of being slower and having more errors compared with when they were given no instructions. Similar results have been found in baseball where skilled university-level players were asked to perform a hitting task. They heard a randomly presented noise and were told to indicate whether their bat was moving up or down at the instant they heard the noise. Biomechanical swing analysis revealed that the resultant deterioration in performance was at least in part due to a disruption in the sequencing and timing of the components of their swing. The more complex the skill, the greater is likely to be the loss of performance when the player concentrates on the step-by-step components of that skill (Masters et al 1993). It’s also more likely to occur in a high pressure situation, such as hitting a golf putt to win a golf championship (Masters et al, 1993). And it’s golf, and in particular Tiger Woods, that has given us an example of how paralysis by analysis can be overcome. Tiger’s father Earl taught him to putt when he was just a toddler. He told him to rotate his head and really look at the hole, then come back to the ball. He repeated this two or three times until he built up a picture in his head. All he had to do now was to “putt to the picture”. In other words you want to tell your subconscious brain, in as much detail as possible, exactly what you want it to do. But don’t tell it how to do it. David Donner