Skill vs. Execution
Whenever athletes make a mistake on the field, is it because they lack a particular skill or because they face difficulty in executing a skill?
On-the-field mistakes always become apparent to the players, coaches, and avid fans. Such mistakes can often cost a team a win. The question here is what can be done to reduce such mistakes, as well as to improve the precision and performance on field?
Skills are acquired through years of training and regular practice. With enough repetitions, an athlete can master a particular skill-set. This is because the skills become a part of your brain function (like a program for a computer). Every time you step outside on the field, you simply need to run this skills program from your brain.
If an athlete continues to make the same mistake on-field over and over again, it is the area where the Executive Functioning lies with the “skills program”
However, if athletes continue to make continuous mistakes across a number of skills, the trouble lies in the executive functioning (skills execution function within the brain). The solution, the internal brain clock would need to be fine-tuned.
An Insight to Skills Program
An athlete learns a particular skill (or acquires a specific skill-set) by repeating a number of strategies and techniques over and over again. As the brain registers that a particular activity is being repeated several times, it develops a pattern and builds circuits to facilitate the execution of such actions. This phenomenon is also known as the Learning Curve (achieving specialization through repetitions).
The higher the number of repetitions for a particular task, the easily the brain learns and the better it responds. The end result is the development of a complex stock of knowledge within the brain for a particular skill. This is called a “Skill Program.” These programs are the resources that are successfully executed, as and when required.
How are Skill Programs Executed?
Within the brain, there is an executive function. The purpose of this function is to execute skill programs, as and when needed. It does not matter what type of skills you have. If your skills are needed for a particular condition or situation, your executive function will help you execute such skills and put them to practice.
Executive Function and Mistakes On-the-Field
Some of the most common problems and mistakes on the field are caused by a momentarily lapse of the executive function within the brain. These mistakes include, but are not limited to:
✔ An athlete missing out on a catch
✔ An athlete missing out on an assignment
✔ A normally functioning athlete missing out a free-throw
✔ A normally functioning athlete failing to deliver and messing up a game
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Execution, Precision & “Brain Lapses”
No matter how skilled, talented, and successful they are, all athletes suffer from periodic “brain lapses” which adversely affects their precision, accuracy and on-field performance.
Reducing these glitches is the only way to move forward and improve your overall athletic performance.
The 4 Keys to Precision and Execution
✔ Sport-Centered Skills Coaching: By repeating skills, your skill program develops and strengthens and is continually reinforced in your brain to be able to execute the skills.
✔ Strength-Building: These exercises involve physical conditioning. It is necessary so that your body can develop all the necessary resources it needs to be able to execute skills.
✔ Mentoring: Psychological and mental coaching plays a vital role in motivating an athlete and instilling all positive thoughts and emotions which are necessary to execute athletic skills.
✔ Executive Functioning: The human brain has an executive function that can initiate, execute, and sustain the skills (or skill-set) from the skill program. Keeping this part of the brain well-functioning ensures precision and accuracy when executing a particular skill.
Every athletic skill you have acquired over the years is the result of years of practicing and repeating the task over and over again, till you achieve perfection. These skills now run in your brain the way a program or operating system runs inside a computer.
This “skill program” spreads over the Sensory Cortex and the Motor Cortex regions of your brain. Whenever the external environment or conditions are right (e.g. in the middle of an intense match), your brain’s executive function executes the necessary skills you need to level the game.
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The Executive Function
The Executive Function of the Brain
Within the human brain, a certain region is known as the “Executive Function.” The purpose of this function is to analyze the external environment and determine the time when the “conditions are just right to execute a particular skill, from the appropriate skill program.” The brain function then monitors the execution of that skill, at every stage of your game.
How does the Executive Function work?
Your brain has a specific skill program, build by years of training and perfecting a particular skill (or a skill-set). Each step within your skill program has a pre-set (or built-in) clock that monitors it. The Executive Function works as the five-star general the control center for the brain and the individual skills programs.
Before and during a game, it is necessary to ensure that your Executive Function works properly. If this internal master brain clock is not functioning properly, your skill execution will be affected and you may not be able to deliver your 100% in the game or the practice session.
Basal Ganglia involved in controlled executive attention (McNab & Klingberg, 2008).
Cingulate Gyrus responsible for executive, evaluative, cognitive, & emotional functioning (Bush et al, 2000)