Our softball customers are happy to happy to tell you about GameSense and how it’s helped their hitters improve their pitch recognition.
Eric Rynston-Lobel, a young journalism student at Northwestern University recently published an interesting article, “Hitting a baseball is the hardest skill to pull off in sports. Here’s why,” in the magazine Popular Science. We asked our own, Leonard Zaichkowsky, PH.D., and gameSense Co-Founder and Director of Sport Science to add his insights on this topic. His thoughts are below…
Through his scientific research and interviews with experts in physics, Dr. David Kagan, neuroscience, Dr. Paul Sajda, and hitting coaches, Eric accurately portrayed the fact that the skill of hitting a baseball is complex and unlike any other sport skill. It involves more than sheer physical athleticism. In his article, he points out the classical example of how the great Michael Jordon, who ruled the basketball world, failed in his attempt to play professional baseball. Jordan failed primarily because he could not execute one specific skill: hit the 90-mile an hour baseball. This reminded me of when I had my graduate students read a motor learning explanation of the Jordan phenomenon in the book “Why Michael Couldn’t Hit: And Other Tales of the Neurology of Sports,” written by Harold Klawans.
Like Professor Sajda, I studied, taught, and wrote about the
brain processes that are involved in rapid decision-making by athletes. Sajda,
according to Eric, believes exceptional hitters have two important cognitive
- The ability to stop themselves from swinging at certain pitches in a fraction of a second.
- The ability to identify pitches.
I call the first point “impulse control or response override”, an
important cognitive skill to be sure. But
the most important attribute hitters must have is the ability to identify
pitches or what gameSense refers to as pitch recognition. In the book I co-authored with Dan Peterson, “The Playmakers Advantage”, published in
2018, we discuss the three critical perceptual-cognitive skills needed in
fast-paced sports or in hitting of a baseball or softball. They are:
The ability to visually focus on and read important cues early. For example, great hitters with their excellent visual acuity learn to read a pitcher’s grip of the ball and their release point.
Anticipate and decide the type of pitch and location. If a baseball pitcher throws at 90 miles per hour, from 55 feet the hitter needs to decide in .440 seconds whether the pitch will be a strike or a ball; to swing or not swing (where impulse control is needed); and decide whether the pitch is going to be a fastball, breaking ball or changeup, etc. Hitting a fastpitch softball is even more difficult. A 70 mph fastball released 37 feet from home plate requires .35 seconds of reaction time for the batter or 20% less time.
- Execute the skill of putting the bat on the ball. All of this perceptual-cognitive activity plus muscle/limb movement to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat takes less than half a second. In sum, hitting a baseball or softball requires incredible coordination of the hitter’s eyes, brain, nervous system, and muscles of the body.
Until recently, the only way hitters
could develop this important perceptual cognitive skill was through getting at-bats
in a batting cage or in game situations, which is not an efficient method of
training. Today, the visual temporal occlusion method of brain training
developed by GameSense Sports,
allows hitters at all levels to get many “at bats” by simply viewing a variety
of pitchers on their mobile phone, iPad, or desktop computer.
About Leonard Zaichkowsky, PH.D., gameSense Co-Founder and Director of Sport Science
Dr. Zaichkowsky is a widely known sport and performance scientist whose specialty is the psychophysiology of human performance. For 37 years, he was a professor at Boston University with a joint appointment in the School of Education and School of Medicine.
He has published 6 books and more than 100 scientific papers on
sport psychology, sport science, biofeedback, and research methods and made
more than 300 presentations world-wide. Currently, Len is a science consultant
for a number of sports, medical, military, and business organizations. Dr.
Zaichkowsky is a licensed psychologist, a Fellow of the American Psychological
Association (APA), and 2016 recipient of APA’s award for “Distinguished
Contributions to Professional Practice”. He is a past-president and Fellow of
the Association for Applied Sport
Psychology (1997-99), a former member of the Editorial Board of the
Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, and currently section editor on psychology
for the International Journal of Health & Sport Science. Len has consulted
with U.S., Canadian, and Australian Olympic organizations, Major League
Baseball, NBA, NFL, NHL, Spanish World Cup Soccer, Real Madrid, and numerous
other elite sport organizations.
Hello Softball family!
I’m Coach Gentile or Coach Courtney. I am a former
Division 1 softball coach and I am the Softball Director and your Customer
Success Specialist here at gameSense.
Like Coach P, who you met last week, I grew up with a bat
and ball in my hands. In some capacity, I have played every position on the
field; but pitching, 1B, and OF are the ones that I played in College at The
Ohio State University.
I realized when I was about 13 that I wanted to coach
softball in some capacity. I always tried to lead vocally and by example on the
field. It wasn’t until I got to be a Junior in college did I really want to
pursue coaching at the collegiate level. You are at your most vulnerable and
influential years from 18-22 and I wanted to be that coach that could help
mentor not only on the field but off as well. I’ve just recently started
coaching travel ball again and more passionate than ever to be that person for
these young women to look to and to teach them how to be independent, empowered
young women and to teach them what it will take to get to the next level of
their careers in softball.
I am grateful to be a part of this gameSense family as I
truly believe technology and pitch recognition is going to be the wave of the
future here in our game that we all love so much. I wish I would have had it
when I played!
Coach’s Corner #TipTuesday
We stand behind the real-world, on-the-field application of
our products just as much as we stand behind the science and technology used to
develop them; so it is very important to us that real, experienced coaches and
athletes play a part in the everyday operation of gameSense Sports. We have former college athletes as well as
travel, high school, and college coaches on-staff with their hands on the product
every day, working hard and providing input to make our apps the most
efficient, valuable, and practical training tool available.
The coaches on our staff have so many insights, we figured
it was time to give them a platform to do what they do best – coach! So, welcome
to “Coach’s Corner” – a new weekly installment in the gameSense world where we
let our coaching experts take over a post on the ‘gram and drop some knowledge
for our followers.
The gS SRTTM
By Dr. Peter Fadde, Chief Science Officer, gameSense Sports
A hitter’s statistics betray the symptoms of poor pitch recognition: strikeouts, low on-base percentage, and even groundouts (afterall, weakly putting the ball into play is a win for the pitcher, not the hitter!). There are also some hitters that appear asymptomatic. Their stats can be described as “just fine” … for now. These hitters may have good vision, good eye-hand coordination, sound swing mechanics, and an aggressive approach in their hitting arsenal. But if they don’t have good pitch recognition they will eventually run into pitchers that expose their deficiencies.
Athletes who ignore the symptoms of poor pitch recognition jeopardize their chances of high-level hitting success. College coaches know this, and many are starting to insist that players have their pitch recognition tested before being considered for their programs.
Fortunately, there is a reliable and valid pitch recognition test available for baseball and softball hitters. It is called the Standardized Recognition Test, or SRT. The SRT uses the video-occlusion method that sports scientists have used for 40 years to research seemingly-impossible sports skills such as: blocking penalty shots, returning 130 mile-per-hour tennis serves, and split-second hitting decisions in baseball, softball, and cricket.
In a video-occlusion test, the athlete watches video of a pitcher from the point-of-view of a batter. The pitcher winds up and throws; the ball comes out of the pitcher’s hand, and then the video cuts to black. The athlete needs to choose what type of pitch it was: Fastball? Curve? Rise? Slider? Wicked Googly? Pitch zone recognition is also tested: Ball or Strike? Time of ball flight that the athlete gets to see varies: sometimes they see about one-third of ball flight, sometimes less, and sometimes the video cuts to black right at release of the
pitch. Decades of research prove that expert hitters can “read” pitches better and earlier, thereby having more time to decide if and where to swing.
The SRT- developed by gameSense Sports – has three scores: Pitch Type, Pitch Location:Ball/Strike, and PR (or Pitch Recognition) score. Hitters that are especially good at Pitch Type often have high stats in Slugging Percentage; They see the ball early and adjust their swing. Hitters with high Ball/Strike scores have a good eye for the zone. Hitters with a high overall PR Score often occupy the three-hole in the batting lineup when they are also strong hitters (strong mechanics, vision, confidence, approach, etc.)
It is important to remember that the SRT does not test hitting ability. Some players with high PR Scores still struggle at the plate due to other factors such as poor hitting mechanics, strength, vision, confidence, or approach. What SRT does test is how well an athlete can read pitches, which becomes of higher importance as the athlete progress into more elite levels of play.
Over 700 minor league players and hundreds of college players – including players in the Cape Cod Baseball League – have taken the
gameSense SRT for Pro/College baseball. The college softball SRT is breaking into prominence and now required by several teams, notably in the formidable SEC. And gameSense now has SRTs for High School/Travel baseball and softball. Teams use SRT scores in recruiting, coaches and instructors use SRT scores to reveal pitch recognition strengths and weaknesses, and players use SRT scores to see how much they have improved when they train their pitch recognition.
As a science-based test is expected to be, the SRT is trustworthy and valid; It measures what it says it measures. It is reliable. And in order to increase scores, the actual work must be put in first: If an athlete takes an SRT today and again next month, they will score about the same if they have not practiced their pitch recognition.
The best way to improve hitting health and stats are to heed the symptoms of poor pitch recognition and take the test. More information on the SRT can be found at: https://gamesensesport.com/gs-standardized-recognition-test/.
This week we had the honor of chatting with Len Zaichkowsky, PhD, retired Professor from the Boston University, World-class’ sports biofeedback expert, and performance consultant who has worked with many elite pro teams (Vancouver Canucks (NHL), Real Madrid, National Spanish soccer team…) over the years.
Listen to the audio interview here: https://www.theupside.us/p/upside-chat-len-zaichkowsky-world
📝Show Notes: Throughout our conversation, we touched on how he started his career in biofeedback, how important biofeedback is to players’ mental health and how it can impact their performance over time, and his experience working with pro teams like the Spanish national soccer team (La Furia Roja) during the 2006 Soccer World Cup in Germany. We also touched on his experience as an entrepreneur and his view on emerging technologies.
🚀Best Quotes: Here’s some of the key discussion points and best quotes from our conversation with Len or Doc Z as many call him:
On how he started his career in biofeedback:
“It started when I was really a graduate student. I’ve always had an interest in technology for sure. But interesting developments happened in the 1960s where people like Dr. John Basmajian in Ontario and Barbara Brown in California, Neil Miller, Joe Kamiya in California, also Tom Budzynski in Colorado, and others started publishing papers that described how with sensors placed on the human body, you could record physiological functions and if subjects could receive feedback (visual or auditory), they could regulate that modality. For example if a sensor was put on the frontalis muscle and the signal was fed back to the client, he or she could learn to raise or lower the microvolts of activity at will. Dr. Basmajian even taught his clients to self-regulate single motor units. Barbara Brown and Joe Kamiya taught clients to self-regulate brainwaves with feedback. And Neil Miller was incredible when he showed that animals and humans could learn to self regulate heart rate (..) At that time people thought that HR regulation was not possible, but it was amazing research which was then published in the best journals. And they formed a kind of a loose association that ultimately turned into be the Biofeedback Society of America and later BCIA. And when I was a grad student reading that literature, I said, this is all about self regulating stress responses. And at the time I was working primarily in sport. So, I thought: “Why couldn’t the same concept be applied to sport?”.
On how important biofeedback is to players’ mental health and how it can impact their performance over time:
“There’s plenty of evidence in the mental health field and medicine in general that biofeedback technology used properly with guidance can really teach good, strong self regulation skills with different modalities. We use EMG for regulating muscle tension, temperature biofeedback for regulating skin temperature, heart rate, and now, heart rate variability for regulating cardiovascular responses. Likewise we use skin conductance feedback for regulating human sweat responses.And of course the brain, which is interesting (..) EEG measurement and training used to be part of biofeedback, but then later on, about two decades ago, neurofeedback became the term used to describe “biofeedback of the brain”. So as I said earlier, there weren’t many of us really working in biofeedback and sport in the early days. Sue Wilson in Ontario was doing sport in biofeedback. Eric Peper in California. Bruno Demichelis at AC Milan started using biofeedback and coined the idea of the Mind Room”.
On how he ended up working with pro teams:
“When I retired from Boston University I went to work full time for the Vancouver Canucks in the National Hockey League (NHL) in 2010, I presented them with the opportunity to start what I call the “Mind Gym”. Essentially, it was psychophysiology /biofeedback to train self regulation skills to professional ice hockey players. And it was such a new concept to pro athletes. Although, as I mentioned earlier, it has been used in Europe at AC Milan and Bruno Demichelis later introduced his “MindRoom to the Chelsea football club. And I later assisted Real Madrid with their MindRoom when Valter Di Salvo was there. Di Salvo later introduced the “MindRoom” concept to ASPIRE in Qatar. I’d have to say I’ve had some really good success using psychophysiology/biofeedback when I was with the Canucks. We didn’t publish any of that data because it was considered to be confidential”.
On the necessity to educate coaching staffs on what neurofeedback is:
“It’s a big educational effort with players. It was constant education. And of course you have to deal with the coaching staff too in pro sport. You have to try to explain that to them as well in manner which they will understand. And if they’re considered what we might call old school coaches, they’re skeptical of it. So it’s always pushing a boulder up a hill, but I think we’ve made some wonderful progress. In particular, the advancement of technology has allowed furniture size equipment to be reduced to devices smaller than a cell phone.
On the stress that many players have to endure right now due to COVID-19 and many uncertainties:
“For sure and I’m certainly on a daily or weekly basis, working with professional clubs and talking to players and yes, there is that uncertainty there. They’re at the top level because they have a certain amount of resilience and mental toughness, but they’re human beings also. And they have this incredible uncertainty that brings upon increased levels of stress and imbalance in their sympathetic nervous system. Naturally, they are concerned about their own safety, and the safety of their families. They’re concerned about their careers as well, the season ending perhaps prematurely, when is it going to start again? So these stressors all pile up and the problem is that it came on so fast that most clubs weren’t in a position to get players and staff ready, that they’re away from the training facility, and they didn’t even have basic physical training equipment, let alone equipment that could help them in self regulation of stress”.
On the fact that coaches and players can use mental health and relaxation apps to teach them self regulation skills:
“ The good news is that there are plenty of good apps out there. We just have to educate the players and the clubs about the availability of these apps to teach self regulation skills at home to help them with the stress response”.
On his experience working with the Spanish National soccer team in 2006 during the Soccer World Cup:
“I would have to say, Julien, it was probably the highlight of my professional career, working in all sports around the world. It really opened my eyes to what high quality football/soccer is. Here in North America, up to that time, we weren’t getting much quality football. For sure the MLS was around then and reasonably good, likewise at the collegiate level, good competitive football, but certainly not at World Cup level. And of course the quality of the players on the Spanish team was exceptional in ’06. You may remember that the World Cup was in Germany then. Spain lost to France, I think at the round of 16, and it was a close game. But then the same team led by Luis Aragonés in 2008 ended up winning the European Championship. That was significant and the country just went nuts over that win. And then Aragonés retired shortly after that, and I’d moved to Vancouver by then and I was introducing sport science to the Canucks.
On if he was able to use biofeedback with the Spanish soccer team:
“It was impossible because I had my lab set up in Boston at Boston University back in ’06. Portable equipment were just virtually nonexistent, but I taught them self regulation skills and the importance of regulating their respiration, teaching them breathing techniques as the stress of the contest was appearing. And then with all these players, they were so good that pre game jitters would disappear once the game started. They also had a tremendous work ethic and great respect for each other. I know that was one of the concerns that the coaching staff had, given that Spanish National players came from all over Spain and all over Europe and the trick was to bring them together for a short period of time, get them prepped for competing against the best clubs in the world. Would there be a little bit of dissension? They all had pretty big egos, but no, they blended so well as a team and in the game of soccer football, nothing is more important than working together as a team in order to be successful. And for that reason they were. But yes, we worked on the self regulation of the stress response as a big part of player preparation”.
On the fun part of his job and his work with elite teams:
“I left academia to go work in professional sport. I wanted to give something back to high performance sport. Sporting organizations have historically been skeptical of “academic experts” and I was aware of this. I wanted to dispel the “Ivory Tower” impression. I virtually traveled all over the world, working with Olympic organizations and pro clubs and giving practical advice based on good science. So after leaving Vancouver, when the National Hockey League went on strike, I decided that I should try just doing some consulting work and a little bit more writing. The bulk of my consulting work is with lowering athlete stress responses and enhancing their performance. I learned a lot about the importance of physical and cognitive recovery and used heart rate variability for helping athletes recover, which is a big part of what I do now. And I’m also helping organizations with talent identification. Now that doesn’t involve a whole lot of psychophysiology, at least at this point in time, but I’ve had many years of experience in talent identification and professional organizations still want my expertise there”.
On the most challenging part of his job:
“Coaches are resistant to change. But I think as good educators, we can change that a little bit at a time. And the other thing I’m doing Julien, you probably know that I wrote the book with Dan Peterson, my co-author, called The Playmaker’s Advantage, which was a pretty strong look at the importance of decision-making in sport and making correct quick and accurate decisions on the pitch, on the field, on the ice. Not many sport scientists have written about athlete decision making”.
On his latest venture called GameSense:
“The company is called GameSense Sports. You can check it out on the web, but it uses the scientifically demonstrated and well-documented method of “visual occlusion”. And what that means is that if your audience appreciates baseball, the batter is watching on his tablet or his phone, real live pitchers throwing a baseball at 80 or 90 miles an hour plus. And you as a hitter have to anticipate/decide whether that pitch is going to be a fast ball, a breaking ball, or a change up, and whether it’s going to be a strike or a ball. The teaching method shows only the release of the pitch and not the full throwing action. The idea is to teach the batter to recognize what kind of pitch that is by studying carefully the “occluded” videos (…) So during this virus attack, we’ve had wonderful success with the baseball community where this allowed players of all abilities to “try it at home”.
On the emergence of new companies building contactless biosensors like Vayyar an Israeli company, that has built a tiny radar chip that can measure HR, stress, and even sometimes blood pressure, without any contacts to the skin:
“The Israelis have always been pretty advanced in their use of technology and algorithms. (..) If we can move down into having sensors not even being attached to the body and the data are valid and reliable, that would be amazing. Now athletes don’t have to worry about how this might impede their performance on the field, on the ice, the pitch, having sensors on their body. Athletes have always resented wearing anything extraneous on their bodies. And in particular, when EEG started to make a move, nobody wanted to wear electrodes attached to their scalp. That’s why EEG has had such difficulty catching on as a feedback system in sport. Heart rate and heart rate variability are much easier and not as intrusive. That’s gotten some pretty good traction. Skin conductance is also relatively easy to use. So yeah, that’s great news to hear (about contactless biosensors), and I’ll be looking forward to reading about that”.