Sports and athletic performance often overlook the importance of reaction time. It refers to the time it takes for your peripheral and central nervous systems to receive, process, and respond to a stimulus. It can be a visual signal (seeing), an auditory signal (hearing), or a kinesthetic signal (touching). When you hear a gun firing, for example, your ears send a signal back to your brain. After processing the signal, your brain determines whether or not to respond to it. Through efferent motor neurons, the brain communicates with the muscles if the signal requires a response.
The majority of studies indicate that reaction time is a highly genetic trait that can only be improved by 10-20% outside of these biological factors. Since reaction time is a reaction to impulses delivered by our nervous system, it can be difficult to improve. It might, however, just be the improvement of 10-20% that sets you apart from your competitors. So why not make sure you do everything to get to the elite level?
Defining Reaction Time
Response time refers to the period between the presentation of a stimulus and the initiation of a muscular response to it. Among the primary factors affecting a response is the number of stimuli presented, each requiring a response. The reaction time will be short if there is only one possible response (simple reaction time). In the case of more than one possible response (choice reaction time), it will take longer to decide which response should be taken.
Enhancing Reaction Time With Sports-How To Do it?
Depending on the skill required for their sports, coaches and athletes need to determine where they can make response gains. The ability to respond quickly is an inherent one; however, you can improve your overall response time by practicing. Consider the following:
- Recognizing the cue – in a sprint start, focusing on the starter’s voice and the sound of the gun and segregating this from background crowd noise and negative thoughts
- Detecting relevant cues – a goalkeeper’s understanding to assess body language at penalties
- Decision-making – working on set pieces and sports situations
- Alteration in attention focus – being able to shift quickly from concentration on the opponent to concentration on the field of play in invasion games
- Regulating anxiety – which slows reaction times by adding contradicting information
- Developing optimum levels of motivation – ‘psyching up
- Warm-up – to assure the sense organs and nervous system are ready to convey information and the muscles to act upon it.
Factors Influencing Response Time
Response time is the amount of reaction time plus movement time. Factors that may influence the performer’s response are:
- Gender and age
- Stage of learning
- Psychological state
- Level of fitness
- Number of possible responses
- Time available
- The intensity of the stimuli
- Body Temperature – colder the slower
- State of alertness
- Length of neural pathways
Effective Strategies Used By Athletes To Improve Reaction Time Training
Tennis Ball/ Throwing Ball Method
When it comes to increasing your athletic performance, tennis balls are invaluable tools. However, the use of a reaction ball or bouncy ball in reaction time training can also be effective. To control the training exercises you can use the VBT. By throwing the ball against a surface, you can get it back at you. This makes your mind think more quickly because you have to catch the ball before it goes elsewhere.
You can also improve your brain’s ability to process information by repeating the same movement over and over. By doing so, the brain doesn’t have to think about an action like catching a tennis ball, which becomes an involuntary reflex. E.g. a soccer goalie only has about 0.3 seconds to react during penalty kicks. Quick reaction is essential not only for winning the game but for being able to play at all.
Reaction Speed Drills
A variety of different exercises can aid in increasing reaction time, such as ladder drills, agility drills, and specialized plyometrics. Digital reaction drills have also become popular among elite athletes to optimize their brains’ ability to process information faster. Reaction speed drills are intended to improve reaction time to stimuli, we can control them using the Vitruve encoder.
The exercises can include controlling an object (e.g. football or hockey puck). The signal for the reaction to take place can be visual (movement of an object) or a specific command (voice), or sound (starter’s gun). The cue should be appropriate to your event or sport. For instance, a starter’s pistol for a sprinter.
Athletes use anticipation to reduce predictability when responding to stimuli, such as anticipating a serve an opponent is going to use (spatial or event anticipation). Here, the player has developed the ability to detect cues early in the serving sequence that indicates what action to take. A tennis player can be at risk by anticipating this way, but getting it right has significant benefits.
It gives the player more time to position themselves for the return earlier than usual, giving him or her more time to play the shot. Anticipation is possible in nearly all sports. For example, by watching how an opponent pivots or drops the hips, a rugby player can get an idea of what direction an opponent is going or what movement he is trying to execute.
Meditation and Mindfulness Exercises
A variety of mindfulness exercises have been proven to reduce the time taken for a person to respond to external forces. Through meditation, for instance, the mind can be calmed while the brain’s responses are strengthened. A study was conducted where participants practiced guided meditation for 12 weeks. The results showed that meditation had a positive impact on their auditory, and visual reaction time and it also increased their alertness.
Similarly, yoga (stretching) has been shown to reduce delays in reaction time while improving mobility and mental functioning. Findings from one study showed that yoga had a positive impact on mobility, reaction time, and the overall well-being of diabetes patients. Specifically, leg lift variations such as the waterfall pose, and improved body systems are associated with reaction time.
Reaction time is crucial in sports and athletics, and there’s plenty you can do to help improve it. Regardless of individual differences, each athlete can learn to improve their reaction time. The athletes must be competent in responding to the stimulus, whether it is verbal, visual, tactile, or any other form. It is unlikely that a football player will pick up basic motor skills just by playing the game if he lacks these skills. Therefore, reaction time is especially important in fast-paced sports like motorsports, eSports, boxing, badminton, etc
It’s more profitable if the athletes practice reaction time in the context of athletic situations in their respective sports. However, athletes can always improve their reaction time training, regardless of whether they want to win the championships or just play for pleasure and enjoyment.