An Athlete’s Secret Weapon: Video Games


For most athletes, there’s no getting away from the fact that success relies primarily upon intensive training and a sustained focus on getting the fundamentals right. Take one look at the top athletes competing at events like the Winter Olympics or the Super Bowl and it’s clear that the top talents haven’t just realized their innate skill but have worked out how best to harness their talent in an optimal way.

Indeed, when you look back at the most incredible events from recent sporting history, such as when Usain Bolt showed the world how to destroy the 100m record back in 2008 (it wasn’t just his winning time that made history; it was the other stats as well, like the fact that Bolt ran 12.20 m/s between 50m and 60m), you start to see that it isn’t luck that helps these athletes reach the top of the sporting world but their dedication to realize their potential. Indeed, while some of Bolt’s tomfoolery, like looking at cameras during races, might seem foolish, it actually comes straight out of the world of the decathlon, where you need to be able to distract yourself in order to cope with the strain of events.

Keeping Up with the Times

The example of Usain Bolt shows that training, implementing clever distraction techniques, and pure skill are all vital. With so much taken into account when it comes to reaching peak performance level, it is no wonder that sites like our own look into the world of training so deeply. Without too much in-depth research, it seems clear that the training landscape across professional sports is an ever-evolving one. Training is one area of sport that refuses to stay still.

Much like how huge online companies like Facebook look to acquire and work with innovators like Oculus to help create better virtual reality technology (Facebook acquired them for around $3billion in 2014), and WhatsApp to help them become better at refining their product, it is clear that even the very best athletes have to look to their rivals for inspiration, or others who may offer them a new idea for improvement. One of the most recent examples of this has taken place, perhaps unexpectedly, in the gaming industry.

Leading universities like Loughborough University understand the importance of technology aided sports, offering courses on the subject, and in popular culture movies like Moneyball showing that technology can help to identify talent (albeit with a few caveats), but it is a relatively new idea to believe that sports like baseball and soccer can be improved by playing video games. Indeed, evidence now suggests that, while Lionel Messi (who is pretty much considered to be the best soccer player on the planet) associates with the likes of PlayStation and EA to help sell their games and products, his own skill as a player could be enhanced by playing the games himself.

Not the Only Way

While the Messi discussion is based on theory, there are players such as top soccer player Andrea Pirlo and Grigor Dimitrov, who is a top tennis player, who do attribute some of their improvements down to gaming. Indeed, Demetrious Johnson, the UFC champion, plays Tekken and Street Fighter (a game that has shifted around 40 million units and represents a real throwback to the days of Sega and Nintendo rather than the world of the Microsoft Xbox One!) for practice, with the angles and combos helping him to up his game. Taking things back to athletics for a moment, one of the other greats, Michael Jordan, five-time NBA MVP and 14-time NBA All-Star, helps to keep his focus sharp by playing blackjack games. This allows him to concentrate his mind in order to make him a sharper and more successful individual. This sort of approach doesn’t only need to be the reserve of the pro; an article about blackjack from Betway explains, anyone can use blackjack strategy to improve their thought processes in other areas. When playing blackjack a player is offered a variety of playing patterns, should you stand, fold, surrender or hit? These different playing options though are straight forward, when actually faced in a real situation can be lost.

This interesting relationship between gaming and professional development in the sporting arena is only one part of the puzzle, and is clearly best labeled as a way to refine and inspire, rather than as a primary training technique. This means that, much as the niche of sports psychology helped to offer athletes a way to make gains and improvements, computer gaming might help these same individuals make different marginal gains that go hand in hand with the work done in extra physical workouts and via coached training.

Perhaps in the future it will be computers and computer game simulations that will help to motivate and coach the top sportspeople but, for now, rather than being something utterly revolutionary, it seems like simply a strong secret weapon to help give individuals that extra 1% that could beat the competitors or propel them to that unexpected PB.


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