The Psychology of Performance


Ford Performance (the car makers motorsports branch), behavioural scientists from King’s College London and UNIT9 came together last year to find out whether brain training techniques can help everyone reach their peak of physical performance. 

I’ve previously posted on mental visualisation and meditation. This research set out to investigate and improve understanding of the brain mechanisms behind these techniques and how they can affect physical performance.

EEG (electroencephalography) headsets were used to read electrical signals from the brains of professional drivers and ‘normal’ drivers in a racing simulator. They were then subjected to various challenges to measure concentration and reaction speeds.  For the purpose of the experiment, some of the ‘normal’ drivers performed the mental preparation exercises the professional drivers use to ‘get in the zone’.

What were the mental exercises?

The scientists used two techniques on the drivers:

  1. Breathing meditation: an exercise inspired by Tibetan Buddhism that features controlled breathing, holding your breath for a period, repeating and a recovery rest period.
  2. Mental visualisation: a technique that involved listening to a simple description of the race track, with vague indications about direction, so they gained more mental confidence and relaxed.

And the results were?

The research confirmed the ability of the professional drivers to perform to their best during the tasks. It showed that, when travelling at high speed and in a state of high focus, the racing drivers’ brains performed up to 40 per cent better at ignoring distractions than the ‘normal’ drivers.

However, when the ‘normal’ drivers performed some of the mental exercises, they were also able to reach the higher level of performance.  The simple breathing and meditation exercises and visualisation technique saw the ‘normal’ drivers improve their focus and performance by as much as 50 per cent!!!

So what does this mean for mountain bikers?

This research doesn’t just apply to car drivers. I’ve posted previously about similar research involving Isle of Man TT legend John McGuinness. The elite mountain bikers among us are using the same techniques too and so, for those of us that aren’t using these techniques, you need to start!

If you’re going to take the time to practice, practice like the elite.



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