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Byron Shire
May 7, 2021

Inside their heads

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Laboratory-based psychological tests are not necessarily useful for sports scientists studying the behaviours and techniques of elite athletes. That was the take-home message from Professor Vincent Walsh in a presentation at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra recently.

Professor Walsh, an expert in human brain research from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College in London, visited the AIS as part of the Visiting Scholars program.

An expert in brain stimulation, visual cognition, plasticity and the measurement of brain function, Professor Walsh has published more than 300 scientific articles and several books.

His plea to the AIS audience was for sports scientists and neuroscientists to focus on single case studies from the real world, rather than lab-based tests. ‘The vast majority of laboratory tests are just irrelevant to the real world,’ he said.

Professor Walsh said lab-based tests were far removed from the conditions and circumstances athletes faced on the sporting field, and as such were not necessarily applicable or useful to the sports sector.

Professor Walsh also presented an important case study of how cognitive neuroscience continued to inform sports science and in particular how it could transform the training routines of athletes.

He outlined how athletes could overwrite recurring mistakes that had been hardwired into the brain by using stimulation and by ensuring athletes rested after training.

Professor Walsh said sleep and downtime were vital for the consolidation of new information, knowledge and routines acquired during training. He said, from a neuroscientist’s perspective, the importance of sport should not be downplayed. ‘With the exception of being a combat soldier, my contention is that sport is the hardest thing that the brain does,’ he said. ‘It presents more challenges to the brain than anything else.’

Professor Walsh said the study of elite athletes was not only beneficial for the sports sector, but could potentially provide an insight for neuroscience generally.


From the AIS: www.ausport.gov.au

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