SPECIAL CONTENTS Training the“Athletic Brain Article 1 (Part 1 of 2) | Feb. 18, 2016

Exploring how to control the mind and body (Part 1)

Research on ‘mind’ and ‘technique’ as a means to improvement in sports

The Sports Brain Science Project aims to find a methodology to efficiently improve performance in sports, enabling a person’s body to be moved optimally and their mental condition to be controlled smoothly. What is the basic philosophy that it rests on?

Research on ‘mind’ and ‘technique’ as a means to improvement in sports

—What kind of research is involved in the Sports Brain Project?

Kashino: I think that most people think that for athletes to improve their performance or win in a game, they have to "strengthen their body" That is, the athletes have to develop their muscles and enhance their cardiopulmonary function. Of course, that is very important and is an indispensable element for improving sports. However, that is not the purpose of this research. The reason is that just making the body strong is not enough.

To maximize the power that human beings can show, we are focusing on "how to control the body optimally" or "how to control the mind well". In sports, 'mind, technique, and body' are regarded as essentially one thing that cannot be divided. However, whether in research or training, the 'body' has been isolated and considered by itself. So, while shedding light on the aspects of ‘mind’ and ‘technique’ that have been neglected so far, we will try to find out the true essence of all three aspects— ‘mind,’ technique,’ and ‘body’—considered together.

—Why are you focusing attention on ‘mind’ and ‘technique’?

Kashino: As you know, in regard to research on the ‘body,’ that is, research aimed to enhance muscular strength and improve pulmonary function, various methods of efficient training based on exercise physiology have been proposed or are already in use. However, systematic training methods based on scientific knowledge have not been established in fields related to the ‘mind’ and ‘technique.’ In this situation, we have seen recently that various devices that can open up our knowledge in these unknown fields are being combined and used together. These include advanced information and communications technology devices such as: wearable sensors*1, virtual reality devices*2, and machine learning technology*3.

So, using these advanced ICT devices and technology, we are trying to find new training methods. Incidentally, because the ‘mind and ‘technique’ play a significant role in sports and are controlled by the brain, the research we are doing belongs to brain science. Among the different areas of study in this field, we are targeting ‘cognitive neuroscience.’

*1 Wearable sensor
A sensor that provides biological information on the heartbeat, body movements, eyeball movements, etc. of the person wearing it. This sensor can be worn in different ways: as a wristwatch, as a finger ring, as an eyeglass, as a pin stuck on the chest, clothes, or shoes, as part of a hat, etc.

*2 Virtual reality
A technology that generates a sense of bodily sensation by stimulating the user's senses. The Japan Virtual Reality Society defines virtual reality as the state in which ‘appearance and shape are not original, but essential or effective as reality and original.’

*3 Machine learning technology
Techniques / methods that use computers to try to realize functions similar to the learning ability of humans. By learning from a large amount of collected data, devices using this technology can dig out the implicit regularities, rules, and patterns in the collected data, and make predictions accordingly.

I want to look into unconscious, automatic movements and implicit abilities

—Cognitive neuroscience is an academic field that seeks to understand how mental or cognitive functions are created by the brain’s neural circuits, isn’t it? From this field, could you please tell us some of the key words and concepts that you will apply in your research?

Kashino: A key concept in this field is ‘implicit brain function. ‘implicit’ refers to ‘activities that a person does not recognize or is not aware of.’ The opposite of implicit is "explicit", and it refers to what rises into our consciousness, what we can logically operate like words, or what we can recognize as clear knowledge. In the world of sports, our implicit unconscious plays a much bigger role than the things that we are explicitly conscious of. And, we are using the term ‘implicit’ with a double meaning.

The first meaning of this term refers to automatic movements and reactions that a person concerned is either unaware of or not conscious of. Consider the case of sports played with balls, or of martial arts and other types of fighting sports. First of all, at the top level, these sports are extremely fast, aren’t they? For example, in baseball, the pitcher releases the ball, and it reaches the batter at home plate in only about 0.5 seconds. If the pitcher is someone like Shohei Otani of the Los Angeles Angels, who throws balls at speeds of 160 km/h, then the batter only has less than 0.4 seconds before the pitch arrives. In this short time, the batter must decide whether to hit the ball or not. In other words, the batter is stuck with having to make the best decision he can without enough information in an extremely short period of time.

—— This speed is really hard to imagine … because the batter has less than one second

Kashino: That’s right. You might not get a sense of how fast this is just by watching a TV broadcast of a baseball game, but if you actually see a ball thrown by a real professional pitcher, it really goes fast—it’s over in a moment. If you like, please watch videos on YouTube of Yu Darvish and Shohei Otani throwing in the bull pen (laughs.)

Recognizing the ball, deciding, and then moving is something that we absolutely cannot do in the short span of 0.4 to 0.5 seconds. The fact that a hitter can get a clean hit—the fact that the brain can solve such a hard problem is something, isn’t it? This happens even though the batter had no consciousness of ‘thinking.’ This, for neural science is an extremely interesting theme.

The second meaning of the term ‘implicit’ refers to what we call ‘potential abilities.’ In short, it refers to the abilities that are dormant in persons, but not yet demonstrated. We are trying to find a methodology that will enable us to waken these dormant or implicit abilities in people. For example, remember when you first did a back flip on a bar. Just because it became possible for you to do a back flip on a bar did not mean that your strength suddenly increased from before you did the back flip to after you did it. It probably did not happen that way—rather you suddenly just got the knack of how to do it. This is nothing other than the fact that Your brain learned to issue an optimal command on how to move your body. In other words, we can take this to mean that the activity pattern between your body and your brain changed.

In this way, we are focusing on what we should do to change our brain. In other words, in the implicit areas where our bodies move freely on their own, we are trying to find ways to control the mind and body freely by training the brain.

(Text revised: April 10, 2018)

(Japanese text written by Madoka Tainaka)

Next: Article 1 (Part 2 of 2)
Exploring how to control the mind and body

» Back to Articles


SPECIAL CONTENTS | Feb. 18, 2016

Article 1 (Part 2 of 2) Exploring how to control the mind and body

Brain activities we are unaware of control body movements and decision-making


SPECIAL CONTENTS | Feb. 18, 2016

Article 2 (Part 1 of 2) Understanding the inner mechanisms of the mind and body to find the essence of fine skills and methods for enhancing sports performance

Using ICT to comprehensively understand mental and physical reactions


SPECIAL CONTENTS | Feb. 18, 2016

Article 2 (Part 2 of 2) Understanding the inner mechanisms of the mind and body to find the essence of fine skills and methods for enhancing sports performance

Using ICT to comprehensively understand mental and physical reactions