the study of the kicking components within sports

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Mind Over Foot, part 2.1

Note: here is a repeat of one of our favorite posts from years gone by, which we had of course forgotten about after having emptied our minds...

What were they thinking? Answer: ideally, they weren't thinking.
 After kicking a game winning field goal in overtime last week, Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Scobee commented:
“I have a routine in my mind and physically that I go through. I take my steps and tell myself to kick it right down the middle. Then all my thoughts are gone. I don’t give myself time for negative thoughts to creep in.”
In a recent interview, former Cal kicker Tyler Fredrickson was asked what went through his mind when he was about to kick. He responded:
"Hopefully nothing. It’s when you start thinking you get in trouble. At that point, if you can’t turn off your mind and simply operate on muscle memory you’re screwed. The doubt will 99.9% of the time get the best of you."
It is certainly not surprising that they gave the same answer. Virtually every kicker, coach, or anyone associated with kicking gives essentially the same answer. That got us to thinking about not thinking. The initial image that popped into our mind was that of a meditating Buddhist monk in a remote tranquil monastery somewhere high in the mountains. That is of course a marked visual contrast to a kicker standing in the middle of a football stadium surrounded by tens of thousands of screaming spectators. We figured that first image was either an oversimplification of a complex topic, a woefully inadequate comparison, and/or was flat out wrong. Consequently we consulted our friend the physio-losopher. It turns out we knew even less about nothing than we thought we did.
"Hmmm... Well that's complicated for being "nothing" :-)
It's a western misconception that "emptying the mind" is "nothing". Specifically, this "technique" is most commonly identified with Eastern meditation practices (which are lifestyle practices that are the foundations of religious / spiritual pursuits): India, China, Japan (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism respectively). The "technique" - rather than being "emptiness" - is actually a one-pointed focus of concentration so that attention to other mental processes is withdrawn and they are not noticed by the conscious mind. the mind is abuzz with electrical activity. We only notice a portion of it.
When a person is falling asleep there is a phenomenon called "hypnagogic" imagery, where a person can be aware of this electrical activity - a "lucid dream," one where the person is aware that they are dreaming, is the same sort of phenomenon. the more intelligent a person is (the more structured access he has to his brain's activity) the more distracting that activity becomes. This is "not being able to see the forest for the trees" as the conscious mind is besieged with the electrical activity. We interpret the activity as images or thoughts, from very vague "senses" through to "lightening bolt" realizations of clarity depending on the brain structure (built by practice and experience over time).
"Emptying" the mind is placing attention on... something so abstract it can't be named. usually someone starts by focusing on a verse or image, then is able to focus on a non-mental experience like breathing, then "graduates" to "samadhi" which is a state of focus on *something* that can't be named or described. During this process, brain waves change. When samadhi is achieved, brain waves are mostly synchronized and of a particular frequency. It's not "nothing" nor is it "checking out" like being asleep. I suspect that if one could probe the brain one would find that activity in the frontal cortex (thinking about things) is synchronized with the more autonomic portions of the brain so that what is "thought about" in the frontal cortex is the "same" content as the autonomic portions."
Although many from the West associate these ideas with the East, similar applications can be found in various practices, cultures, religions, peoples throughout the world - "the drumming of Africa, the rocking and chanting of Judaism, the endurance dances of the plains Native Americans..." - just to name a few.

While we had already previously named this series of blog posts "mind over foot", in some ways "foot over mind" could be equally if not more appropriate.

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