I recently watched Mysteries of the Unseen World, a fascinating documentary currently on Netflix that prompts viewers to think about the “unseen” world around us, including objects too small for the naked eye, or things moving too fast for us to see. In one example the common dragonfly is examined flying at a fraction of its normal speed, illustrating an amazing wing pattern where all 4 of the dragonfly’s wings are shown moving in different patterns and directions (only the dragonfly can do this). Aside from this being interesting to watch at slow speed, it is mentioned how future human aviation technology might be improved by learning about the dragonfly flight pattern. In fact, on several occasions throughout the documentary they discuss how our future technology might be improved by learning about nature, and parlaying those findings into ways to improve the quality of our lives.
Future sports technology
Sport scientists are always looking for the latest technology to improve athletic performance, prompting me to think about how the future will look in sports as we learn new ways to run, jump, and throw? As we continue to examine various animals, bugs, and creatures do amazing things (like the dragonfly), will sport scientists find better ways in which to train athletes to maximize performance? The answer to this question is almost certainly “yes,” but as we race to learn the latest science are we forgetting/overlooking arguably the biggest and most important variable — mental toughness?
Breaking this discussion down, even if we do learn better ways for athletes to get the most from their bodies, they will still need to learn how to increase self-confidence, sharpen focus, and minimize debilitating nerves and anxiety. The good news is we already have the solutions to these problems, but my fear is mental toughness may be overlooked in exchange for more “quick-fixes” and things that appears to be substitutes for simply having your head on right.
Still no substitute for mental toughness…
New science is definitely a good thing, but if we rely on new gadgets and gimmicks to be a replacement for learning ways to strengthen our mental toughness, we might be looking for answers that simply don’t exist. Competition in sports will always create pressure, stress, frustration, adversity, and failure — how we respond to these things is independent of a new piece of equipment designed to help run faster or throw farther. In fact, I would even argue that the athlete who plays with great confidence but without the latest technology is still at least even — if not ahead — of his competition playing without confidence but instead fancy equipment.
So what’s the lesson here? Take in new technology and findings, but don’t let it be a substitute for doing the basics — like learning how to use breathing to control anxiety, or imagery to be able to prepare for the next play. While it is true there isn’t anything fancy to teaching an athlete how to use deep breathing or imagery, they are very important skills for athletic success not only today, but far into the future — even as new gadgets and gimmicks are developed.
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