Feedback, neuroplasticity, and you: the science of improvement
The science of fitness and physical capability has come a long way since the early days of tennis, and the breakthroughs only seem to accelerate as time goes by. While much of the research being undertaken around the world exists to find new ways to help the physically disabled and those recovering from injuries, the applications of these breakthroughs promise new opportunities for savvy athletes and tech-friendly trainers to find new ways to make big strides forward.
1) Feedback and you
If you’ve ever had a coach watch your form and offer correction, you'll understand the importance of external feedback in helping an athlete to refine his or her physical motions. What you may not know, and what research has begun to uncover, is just how important the gap between training with external feedback and training with it can be.
Research into groups performing motor imagery tasks while utilizing abstract visual feedback versus those which did not found that the group utilizing tools during the process recorded significant improvements in their motor imagery learning. The group which operated without feedback saw no worthwhile gains from their imagery learning.
While this is quite exciting for those looking to recover step by step from serious injuries, tennis players might see the potential to apply this principal to their own image training. With the right feedback tools paired to imagery learning, players can push themselves closer to their perfect movements, bypassing the limitations and inclinations of their bodies to make inferior, imperfect motions.
2) Why neuroplasticity matters
This sort of training has additional effects which will ripple through your entire training regime: improving neuroplasticity. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, neuroplasticity essentially refers to the ability of your brain to change and adapt. Those with higher levels of neuroplasticity will learn faster, adapt to new situations faster, think more flexibly, and retain more of what they encounter.
A player who manages to develop a higher level of neuroplasticity will see improvements in all aspects for training, from muscle memory to high level strategy and tactics. While many of the newest technologies which can help with this remain in testing or under limited availability, there are dozens of existing ways for a savvy player to work on their neuroplasticity and improve their development.
Orand, A., Ushiba, J., Tomita, Y., & Honda, S. (2012). The comparison of motor learning performance with and without feedback.Somatosensory & Motor Research, 29(3), 103-110. doi:10.3109/08990220.2012.687419