He isn’t the first person to have a ritual in sport. We see tennis players such as Rafa Nadal or Serena Williams bounce the ball 20 times before a serve, or other rugby kickers such as Johnny Wilkinson’s squatting or Owen Farrell’s creepy robot stare. But does it improve performance?
It’s all in their head!
Just like superstitions, certain rituals can
How do rituals actually help us?
Technically everything that happens on the pitch is in the player’s brains. We live in our brain and it controls our entire body. This is why you can transplant almost every organ in the body apart from the brain and still be you.
The human brain is a large bundle of tiny wires that send messages back and forth. These wires are called neurons. Depending on which neurons are activated, the brain will either control thought processes, make decisions or control the body etc.
These neurons are mostly activated by our senses and the brain uses these senses to decide or predict what will happen next. Every second of the day your brain is making predictions and preparing for the future based on these sensations. A good example is waking in the morning to the smell of bacon, suddenly the glands in your mouth start producing saliva and your stomach starts grumbling with hunger. It does this because your previous experiences associates this smell with eating food and your body has already started preparing for the meal. It also happens in animal’s brains, if you pretend to throw a stick for your dog he/she will turn to chase nothing because you have thrown a real stick in the past. Our brain is constantly predicting the next step whether it is right or wrong.
If it were you and I lining up for that kick our brain would be receiving a lot of new sensations and our thoughts would be overactive. “I can’t believe I’m here” “I hope I don’t let my team and country down” “there are 73,000 fans screaming” “What would my family think?” Dan Biggar’s brain will work in a different way as he needs to eliminate all those thoughts and focus.
The neurons in the limbic system (controls emotions and stress) of the brain needs to become less active. He has trained his body (and his brain) thousands of times on the training ground by doing his dance and then taking his kick.
Now when he starts his dance, the neurons in his subconscious brain start to fire and predict what will come next “…brush my shoulder then wipe my head…” By the time he gets to the end of this routine his brain and therefore his body is a perfectly controlled machine ready to kick the ball wherever he wishes. It is this control that has managed him a 91% penalty success rate in 2014/15 season and to score 8 out of 8 in Twickenham against England in the Rugby World Cup including that unforgettable 50m winner.
So should every aspiring athlete do a dance before kicking?
The dance itself does nothing at all. If I did the dance and ran up to kick from 50m I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t come close. Whatever you do in training will train those neurons and grow a consistent pattern to give you more consistent results. Sadly, like life, success comes from hard word and consistency rather than a fun dance.
How can I improve my training?
Any interference to these neurons or nerves can cause an interrupted message and alter the consistency of the results you are aiming for. Our job, as Chiropractors, is to detect any interference on the nerves and remove them to allow your body to function and train better. This is why almost all professional athletes seek chiropractic care to reach their goals.