Sport Neuro-Mechanics Set To Change The Game

What if there was a way to objectively measure the mental attributes required to reach the pinnacle of sport?

Mental attributes are what ultimately win trophies. Innate talent coupled with dedication can hone skill but the consistent ability to achieve peak performance under pressure defines an elite sportsperson. What if there were a way to objectively measure the cerebral qualities required to reach the pinnacle of sport?

Anxiety, anger, stress and fear are just some of the emotions sportspeople must control efficiently and consistently to execute peak performance. The issue is only further compounded in solo sports; there are no human contingency plans in the form of teammates. Golf is considered to be one of the most mentally taxing sports as it affords so much time to reflect, analyse and over-analyse before the next critical shot. A good golfer has the ability to replicate (almost) any shot from a pro, but it’s the ability to do it consistently and under immense pressure that sets them apart.

The importance of ‘mental strength’ is clearly appreciated but the definition remains, at best, muddy. From visualisation to routine, players are adopting coping mechanisms but the individual mental attributes that underpin elite performance remain undefined on a fundamental level. Surprising, isn’t it, when you consider the margins at play.

At an elite level, the margin between immortality and anonymity is just a fraction of a percent, and coaches and athletes are going to extreme measures to find the slightest competitive edge. Sport science and biomechanics has revolutionised sports coaching from a physiological standpoint. Instead of relying on empirical observation – identifying patterns through results – biomechanics have defined the optimum physical requirements for elite performance and turned sportspeople into finely tuned machines. 

The transformation is particularly evident in golf. Previous conceptions have been bucked with a focus on power, athleticism and fitness. From spinal angle to pelvic rotation, every permutation is quantitatively measured to make the incremental improvements required to win.

So the physical qualities have been mapped to a meticulous level, but what about mental attributes? A fundamental understanding of physiology has shaped everything from training and injury prevention to developing youth talent but why not the considerable cognitive portion of the game? Kevin Chandler, co-founder of the high performance neural-modelling tool AbilityMap and former President of The Lakes Golf Club, has sought to break down ‘mental strength’ into tangible capabilities that can be identified and improved.

AbilityMap was founded to solve a complex but easily articulated problem: why does performance in organisations vary so widely? The crux of the issue was a lack of understanding of the capabilities that drive performance within a role. The AbilityMap framework allowed hiring managers, for the first time, to objectively measure the capabilities of the high performing individuals in the organisation and adjust hiring policies and training accordingly. The insights and results were nothing short of astounding, but what are the implications for sport?

Once again, it started with a question: why, with all the technology and experts working on improving performance, does the success of many young golfers not translate into success as they mature or onto the world stage? Commonalities with the research of AbilityMap quickly began to surface. From a mental standpoint, those seeking to recruit and develop players all possessed different ideas of what drove performance and had no framework to subjectively identify capabilities. What if there was a way to define, discover and develop the mental attributes required to succeed at the very highest level? 

Now there is… sport neuro-mechanics.

Kevin and golf specialist Tony O’Rourke, with the assistance of Golf Australia and the PGA, recruited a team of high-performance coaches that have personally coached international winners. Utilising their unrivalled knowledge and the AbilityMap model they were able to aggregate the coach’s views on the desired mental characteristics of high-performance players. The Elite Golfer Profile details the eight most important characteristics (or capabilities) possessed by players that rise to the occasion rather than crumble. AbilityMap allows the assessment of golfers in relation to these capabilities via a comprehensive series of questions that establish intellectual and personality based criteria.

The final, and most critical piece of the puzzle, was identifying how these strengths and weaknesses manifest in a player’s game. Tony O’Rourke designed a series of scenario-based questions that pinpoint specific components within each competency that link mental attributes and behaviors and decisions on the course. Players now have a quantifiable insight that can be used as a starting point to improve mental performance, just as biomechanics has done for physical performance.

Do you have what it takes?

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