On Your Mark, Get Set, GO!

By Dr. Peter Gorman

We’ve all heard this before. But this simple phrase is actually missing a step. In between GO and the actual motion is an entire series of cognitive events that create a time gap between perception and achievement. This time gap is known as your reaction time.

In this example, the athlete must Recognize the given stimulus (GO), Attend to what he recognizes, Decide on what he is attending to while suppressing any distractors, Accept what he has decided on, and then finally React to what he has accepted. This cognitive process of steps can be referred to as the athlete’s RADAR and will largely affect how quickly the athlete will be able to react to a given stimulus. The longer it takes the athlete to process, the longer it will take them to react and, ultimately, perform.

Baseball is the ultimate true agility sport, where reaction time is key. Every movement on the field is elicited by a stimulus, which in itself is the definition of agility. Whether it is a fielder moving for the ball, a batter swinging or not swinging at the ball, the pitcher deciding on throwing the ball or the base runner advancing or staying, every single movement is decision based. To make each movement as effective as possible, decisions must be made extremely fast. This decision speed is known as the Speed of Processing (SOP) of the brain.

No matter how well trained the athlete is physically, if their speed of processing is slow, they will be slow. It does not matter how fast the athlete is in a 60-yard dash – it is all lost if they cannot think quickly enough to stop, go or slide at the right moment while running the bases. Baseball happens fast – a 95 mph fastball reaches the plate in 413 milliseconds, and it takes 250 milliseconds to unwind the kinematic sequence and swing. This leaves only 163 milliseconds to recognize and understand the pitch. Recognition and understanding are a double-decision in our cognitive process. If the player’s double-decision time is slower than 163 milliseconds, he is set for failure, no matter how great his physical ability.

By increasing speed of processing, the THINK aspect of the game, you will greatly improve your ability to make the right decisions at the right times, thus greatly increasing your overall skill. Luckily for all of us, speed of processing can be trained just like any other skill. There are many cognitive training platforms to choose from, though it is highly recommended that all athletes only choose platforms that are supported by true evidence-based, peer-reviewed papers.

Baseball is a game of moments that must be executed quickly and precisely. Let’s make sure that while we are honing our physical skills to the point of excellence, we are not overlooking the training of our cognitive ability.

Dr. Peter Gorman is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is widely referred to as the developer of heart rate monitor technology and owns seven major patents in the United States and Canada. He was named President of Microgate USA in 2010 and became an adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport Chiropractic College in 2012. He later joined CourtSense, developing innovative and logical progression that helps athletes attain symmetry and better coordination. Dr. Gorman has previous experience working with the United States Military, as well as sports leagues and franchises around the world including those associated with Major League Baseball, FIFA, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League, and the United States Olympic Committee.