Mirror Neurons, Observational
Learning and Lots of Video
Humans are hardwired to be copy machines. Babies learn from copying parents and siblings. The same neurons that fire in someone’s brain when they do something will also fire in your own brain when you simply watch them do it! They’re called mirror neurons, and like many important scientific discoveries, they were discovered by accident. Monkeys in the lab of neurophysiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti were wired up so scientists could discover which parts of the brain were active when the monkey picked up a peanut. During a break, the monkey—still wired up—watched closely as a researcher picked up and ate one of the peanuts. Everyone was shocked when they saw the same neurons fire in the monkey’s brain as she merely watched the researcher pick up the peanut.
After further research, scientists discovered that we humans have another mirror neuron system that encodes not only the task, but how the task is done. Watch and learn. Mirror neurons are one reason why it’s crucial that you watch experts train and perform, because even simply watching them is training your brain. The more familiar you are with a task, the more of your own neurons fire when you watch someone else do it. When you watch, vary your focus as you watch: spend some time focused on the big, overall picture, and then slow it down and zoom in to scrutinize the finer details. Watch a top racer in a race and then watch it again, focusing in on the best turns they make. Be selective, review only the best turns; World Cup champions make mistakes too. Then watch again and focus your attention on the specific parts of the turn that you are working on; for instance, working on the transition in GS. The next step is the most important part to duplicating the skill you are watching. Close your eyes and watch it in your head. Force your brain to fire that circuit in your head. Refine it and repeat it.
Study the best in your field.
Tip: Watch it live if you can and use all sensory inputs available because the mirror neuron system takes input from more than just visual stimulus. Something as simple as the very sound of the ski on the snow as you watch an expert execute an amazing turn can provide exceptional input for your brain to work with.
Tip: YouTube is a great source because you can slow things down by 50%, and use the infinite loop to watch it over and over and over as you absorb those skills. Also, you can often find several videos created by YouTubers that have taken the time to cut up, isolate, and slow down the skill you are trying to improve upon. Seeing is learning!
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Record your athletes on the slopes, review their technique on the spot with apps like Coach’s Eye, DartFish and other software. Side-by-side comparison is a straightforward method of identifying similarities and differences between elite and others or an athlete developing ability over time. It aids athlete’s and coach’s with identifying errors and to make immediate corrections.