“We’ve spent the preceding chapters trying to make the case that there are rational underpinnings for all the supposed craziness and unusual behavior that sports seem to trigger. That is, that “your brain on sports” is really just your regular brain acting as it does in other contexts.”
Sound interesting? This is how Wertheim and Sommers sum up their latest book, This is Your Brain on Sports. From a sport psychology perspective, it’s a great book in the same vein as classics like “Freakonomics” or “Outliers.” The authors take common ideas and phenomena in sports and put them under the sociological and psychological research microscope to explain certain peculiar behaviors and that are common not only in sports, but in life in general.
Each chapter explores a unique idea from sports, examines the research, and relates it to real life. Beginning by promising answers to Why questions: “Why Hockey Goons Would Rather Fight at Home” to “Why We Need Rivals” to “Why Our Moral Compass is More Flexible than an Olympic Gymnast” these chapters offer excellent insights into how the mind works, how people relate to each other through the prism of sports, and uncovers why things that seem bizarre are actually quite common.. The conclusion is that sports isn’t so much different than life. Although, they do go on to explain: “…sports and athletic competition are fertile ground for scientists across disciplines to test their hypotheses about basic aspects of human nature.”
There’s a lot in here to relate to sport psychology and the mental game. For instance, popular theory says that sport psychology was founded in 1898 by Norman Triplett, who noticed that he rode his bicycle faster when he was with other people. In the chapter “Why We Need Rivals,” the authors explain how Triplett created a “competition machine” to test in a lab setting if people did in fact ride faster against someone else as opposed to against the clock. His theory proved to be true, and was used in further studies by other psychologists on how athletes compete against rivals – something that seems to make sense, but now backed by research.
One of my favorites was the chapter that was in essence about goal setting. “Why Running on a Treadmill is Like Running a Business.” In it the authors talk about “the power of the finish line” and how very important to performance setting milestones is. In my experience at SPINw, one of the reasons goal setting fails is that there are not enough measurable milestones on the way to a long term goal. There is some compelling anecdotes and evidence here explaining why this is the case. This chapter, like many others, should prove to be a powerful tool for athletes and especially coaches, to use goal setting for motivation and increased effort.
Overall, there is something for everyone in this book, whether you are an athlete, a coach, a sports fan, or even someone who is just interested in psychology and how the mind works.