Training the“Athletic Brain” Closing in on“mind”and“skill”with brain science  Makio KASHINO, Ph.D. NTT Fellow Head of Sports Brain Science Project NTT Communication Science Laboraories
Boosting muscular strength and cardiopulmonary function are indispensable to improving sporting prowess. However, these factors alone are not sufficient. In sport it is said that “mind, skill and body” are indivisible, and as such gains in performance can be expected once athletes combine a resilient and lithe physique with the “skills” to optimally control theirs bodies and the “mind” to foster a better command of their mental state. So what does one have to do to achieve this? We asked Makio Kashino, leader of the Sports Brain Science Project’s efforts to answer this challenge, his research team, athletes and related others, to explain how to train an “athletic brain”.

SPECIAL CONTENTS | Feb. 18, 2016

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

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?

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Feb. 18, 2016

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

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


Up to now, we have been talking with Dr. Kashino about his work on elucidating the processes of 'implicit brain functions' that a person is unaware of. Dr. Kashino's hobby is baseball, and through researching and practicing baseball, he has uncovered and clarified research themes, with the aim of improving his own skill.

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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


The key to understanding the processes of the implicit brain functions are the various reactions seen from outside the human body. The approach of this research is to comprehensively collect and analyze these reactions by combining data mining and hypothesis verification.

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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

Sensory feedback for conveying body movements through auditory and tactile perception


The Sports Brain Science Project aims to develop new methods to enhance athletic performance based on the collection and analysis of biometric data. What kinds of methods are being developed through the project? Will the day come when coaching can be provided through athlete’s clothing or special kinds of training rooms?

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | May 30, 2016

Article 3 (Part 1 of 2)
Understanding the mental and physical state based on biometric data

Differences between actual game and practice as shown by the heartbeat


Some people are good at practice but then become nervous and cannot perform well during the game, while others are able to take advantage of the adrenaline rush during the actual game. What causes these different reactions? To answer this question, we interviewed Dr. Tetsuya Ijiri and Dr. Makino Kashino. Dr. Ijiri is a young researcher working on the extraction of “mental components” from biometric data under the Sports Brain Science Project.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | May 30, 2016

Article 3 (Part 2 of 2)
Understanding the mental and physical state based on biometric data

Leveraging the experience as a baseball player to tread into an unknown area of study


A member of the University of Tokyo Baseball Club, Tetsuya Ijiri once served as captain of his team in college. While “living for baseball” from a young age, he always aimed for the top and strove to become better, diligently practicing every day. Today, as a researcher, he is leveraging his experience in sports towards the pursuit of methodologies to enhance sports skills from the point of view of science.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | May 30, 2016

Article 4 (Part 1 of 2)
The workings of the brain for seeing and moving

The complicated mechanisms of the brain’s visual system


We may feel that in seeing the movement of an object we are conscious of the object's movement. Actually, however, in a sport where instantaneous judgment and movement are required, we do not have time to think consciously about the object and react. Then how can the body react? Dr. Makio Kashino, Head of NTT Sports Brain Science Project, talks here about the importance of knowing the characteristics of vision, such as illusion, while investigating the brain’s visual system.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | May 30, 2016

Article 4 (Part 2 of 2)
The workings of the brain for seeing and moving

Using the characteristics of vision and investigating the movements and brains of skilled athletes


The visual system of the brain is extremely complicated and has a variety of mechanisms. Because of that, you can move your body without being aware of what you see, and by changing your way of seeing you can change your performance. In sports, people who take advantage of their vision’s various characteristics are able to win out. But how do they do it? One explanation lies in training in a varied environment.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Oct. 19, 2016

Article 5 (Part 1 of 2)
“hitoe”: Revolutionizing Sports and Medicine

The potential of functional materials able to get biological data, just by wearing them


The Sports Brain Science Project is measuring biological data such as heart rate and electromyograms while athletes are engaged in sport, to close in on the state of their minds and bodies. The functional material called “hitoe,” which was developed by NTT in collaboration with Toray Industries, is one tool that plays an important role in performing such measurements. Clothing incorporating hitoe conductive functional material is able to retrieve biological information such as heart rate and electromyograms by simply wearing it. We asked its developers, Dr. Shingo Tsukada and Dr. Hiroshi Nakashima from NTT Basic Research Laboratories, about how hitoe was developed and its properties.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Oct. 19, 2016

Article 5 (Part 2 of 2)
“hitoe”: Revolutionizing Sports and Medicine

Competition data reveals true situation


Hitoe was born through the meeting of researchers from different fields: Dr. Tsukada, who is a surgeon and basic researcher in medicine, and Dr. Nakashima, who is chemist in polymer materials. By taking measurements during competition, it is now possible for the first time, to see the state of an athlete’s mind and body in real time. As expectations rise for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, we hope to expand into training for these athletes.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Dec. 28, 2016

Article 6 (Part 1 of 2)
Improving Sports Technique using Sound and Rhythm

Sonification: Converting muscle activity to sound


What sort of effort will provide the most direct route to technique improvement in sport? Various approaches are taken, such as filming and reviewing one’s own movement, getting guidance from a trainer, and mental coaching, but there may be even better approaches. One possibility being investigated by the Sports Brain Science Project converts muscle effort and timing into sounds and provides them as feedback. This is being called “Sonification”. We spoke with Dr. Takemi Mochida and Dr. Makio Kashino, who are in charge of sonification systems.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Dec. 28, 2016

Article 6 (Part 2 of 2)
Improving Sports Technique using Sound and Rhythm

The potential of sonification systems


The Sports Brain Science Project is developing “sonification” systems that convert muscle motion into sound and provide it as feedback. It is also conducting research studying the relationship between body motion and sound more deeply, and whether it can be used effectively in sports training. Here, we speak with Dr. Mochida and Dr. Kashino about various approaches to sonification using the characteristics of sound, and prospects for the future.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Feb. 14, 2017

Article 7 (Part 1 of 2)
From Pro Baseball Pitcher to Researcher

Coordination of Body and Mental Focus Paved Way to the Pros


Takehiro Fukuda was drafted to pitch for the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, a pro team, at age 25, and retired five years later in 2013. Recently, Fukuda signed on as a research specialist and the latest member of the Sports Brain Science Project in January 2017. With Fukuda's knowledge of sports science acquired at Kyoto University Graduate School—not to mention his invaluable experience as a professional baseball player—this interview will address how Fukuda got started as a researcher, how he became involved with the SBS Project, and how he views the issues addressed by the project as a researcher and as an athlete.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Feb. 14, 2017

Article 7 (Part 2 of 2)
From Pro Baseball Pitcher to Researcher

Researcher and Athlete are Closely Linked


Takehiro Fukuda, a former pitcher for the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, joined the Sports Brain Science Project as a Research Specialist in January 2017. Here Fukuda discusses his aspirations and the role he plays as an interpreter bridging the gap between researcher and athlete based on his own experience and awareness of problems as both researcher and athlete.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Mar. 14, 2017

Article 8 (Part 1 of 2)
DIGITAL CONTENT EXPO 2016 Symposium “The Possibilities of Content Technology in the Olympics and Paralympics”

Can we strengthen humans through the power of technology?


In recent years, by utilizing cutting-edge technologies such as drones, head-mounted displays (HMD), and big data analysis, it is possible to enjoy watching sports from unprecedented viewpoints and to strengthen humans’ physical abilities. Particularly with the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, expectations are high for advanced technology that contributes to sports. Researchers and athletes gathered at the DIGITAL CONTENT EXPO 2016 Symposium held at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) on Oct. 27, 2016, to discuss the possibilities and expectations of advanced technologies.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Mar. 14, 2017

Article 8 (Part 2 of 2)
DIGITAL CONTENT EXPO 2016 Symposium “The Possibilities of Content Technology in the Olympics and Paralympics”

What will the advancement of technology bring to sports?


Researchers and athletes gathered at the DIGITAL CONTENT EXPO 2016 Symposium held at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan) on Oct. 27, 2016, to discuss the possibilities of advanced technologies. With a view to hosting the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, we exchanged opinions on the expectations, challenges, and prospects for new technologies that contribute to sports spectatorship and training, from the athlete’s and the researcher’s point of view.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Apr. 26, 2017

Article 9 (Part 1 of 2)
Understanding Athletes’ “Skill” and “State of Mind” with Virtual Reality Technology

Using highly-realistic VR for brain science measurements


One of the themes of the Sports Brain Science Project is research using virtual reality (VR) to study responses of the mind and body. What are the responses of head mounted display-wearing participants when they are shown highly realistic video of pitches? We spoke to Senior Researcher Dr.Toshitaka Kimura, who seeks to elucidate brain processes by using VR and explore the essence of winning in sports.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Apr. 26, 2017

Article 9 (Part 2 of 2)
Understanding Athletes’ “Skill” and “State of Mind” with Virtual Reality Technology

Risk-takers are suited for sports competitions?


For the Sports Brain Science Project, researchers are using virtual reality (VR) technology to explore responses of the mind and body. They have discovered differences depending on whether participants have previous sports experience. They have discovered diverse responses, such as those who show no reaction at all when hit (virtually) by a pitch, and those who show fear. Senior Researcher Dr.Toshitaka Kimura discusses the possibilities and future prospects of measurements using VR based on these findings.

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Dec. 1, 2017

Article 10 (Part 1 of 2)
Zeroing in on the Secrets of Top Athletes

Do top athletes excel at their ability to predict?


The Sports Brain Science Project is currently carrying out a variety of experiments and measurements at its “Smart Bullpen” in Atsugi City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Research Associate Dr. Daiki Nasu is involved in measuring top athletes under conditions close to actual games. The experiment on “batters’ predictions,” featuring a player from the Japan Softball League, reveals some of the conditions of top athletes.。

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SPECIAL CONTENTS | Dec. 1, 2017

Article 10 (Part 2 of 2)
Zeroing in on the Secrets of Top Athletes

Athletes with a variety of abilities


The Sports Brain Science Project explores what abilities top athletes excel in by measuring and analyzing their performance. “Hitting” is a single action, but it consists of several phases, including predicting, judging, moving, and adjusting. The SBS Project has found that different abilities are needed for each phase. This means that training tailored to each individual is needed to improve performance.

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Writer
Madoka TAINAKA