David Krueger MD

What most fundamentally underlies remarkable intellectual and athletic feats?

Softball pitcher Jennie Finch was a gold medal winner in the 2004 Olympics.  She challenged the best batters in professional baseball to hit her pitches.  Major league baseball hitters are accustomed to hitting 95 mph fastballs, while the fastest softball pitch is 67 mph, and the softball is bigger.

Outstanding hitters took her challenge.  Albert Pujols, the greatest hitter in a generation was the first, followed by Brian Giles, Mike Piazza, and Barry Bonds. They all struck out.  In fact, only one hitter managed to barely touch one ball—a small foul tip. 

What accounts for the best batters in the history of baseball not being able to hit a softball pitch with a larger ball coming at them 30 mph slower than their accustomed baseball?

Same question, different context:  Both grandmaster and novice chess players were shown an entire chessboard with different configurations of pieces.  In 5 seconds, a grandmaster chess player could recreate from memory an entire board.  After viewing the configurations for 15 minutes, a novice could only reproduce about 50% of the chessboard patterns.  And, when both expert and novice players were given a random assortment of chess pieces—configurations that would never appear in a real game—both expert and amateur performed equally.  Why?

There were no ingrained brain performance patterns—no mental representations—developed in deliberate practice by the professional baseball players to hit a softball, or by amateur chess players to read board configurations.

Sustained, deliberate practice can extend possibilities to what was not even previously considered.  An entire skill set—physical, intellectual, artistic—becomes encoded into mental representations.  These new brain performance patterns referred to by neuroscientists as “chunks” ultimately become long-term memory.  The growing ability to recognize and incorporate meaningful patterns in deliberate practice develops skills that increasingly become automatic, and a part of performance flow.

These mental representations allow a chess master, quarterback, executive, or farmer to glance at a situation and immediately recognize patterns to inform perception, processing, and action without having to think consciously.  These mental representations become hardwired in the brain as a default mode of performance flow.

The mind, brain, and performance sciences can now inform the systematic mindset, practice, and execution of elite performance and achievement.

A new virtual cohort of a maximum of 10 Mentor Coaches will begin the NeuroMentor® Institute of Peak Performance Coaches Training.

Information and registration at: www.NeuroMentorInstitute.com/MentorCoach