UTSA Human Performance Laboratory helps athletes reach peak performance
(Nov. 14, 2016) -- Action: The athlete swings his golf club. Effect: A golf ball rolls to one end of the room. In the seconds before and after the action and its effect, six specialized cameras map the motions of the athlete, the club, and the ball.
Nearby, William Land, assistant professor of kinesiology at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) watches as real-time, three-dimensional representations of this act appear on his computer monitors.
This is a common scene in the UTSA Human Performance Laboratory. Here, Land and his graduate student assistants are trying to understand the cognitive and psychological factors that influence human movement, athleticism and–as the lab’s name suggests—performance.
"Fundamentally, humans use their movements to bring about desired effects and outcomes in their environment,” said Land, who is an expert in sports psychology, attention and focus, and the causes behind athletes choking under pressure. “Athletes in particular train very hard to ensure their movements produce certain desired effects, like scoring a basket, jumping hurdles, or accurately pitching a ball.”
According to Land, after extensive practice, the movements required to produce these desired effects become almost automatic to athletes. They don’t have to think about their technique in order to accomplish the movements correctly.
“Athletes are able to anticipate the outcomes of their motion almost instantly after executing an action,” Land said. “The ability to see whether they’ve performed the right action for a favorable outcome is one of the main skills that separate professionals from amateurs. Our research is all about understanding how these skills develop and how we can manipulate them.”
The UTSA Human Performance Laboratory is home to a variety of specialized equipment designed to assist in Land’s research of human movement and performance. The laboratory includes state-of-the-art motion capture equipment and cameras, Doppler software and hardware that can track movement in the air, and specialized goggles that can be used to manipulate a subject’s vision.
Currently, Land is engaged in two ongoing research studies with a group of UTSA graduate kinesiology students who assist him in the laboratory.
The first project deals with figuring out how the relationships between a subject’s actions and its consequences can be used to improve learning and performance. The second study aims to understand how what someone is thinking about, also known as “attentional focusing,” can translate into greater accuracy during movement and performance.
“Through our equipment and set-up, we can manipulate everything from visual to aural feedback, and see in real-time the changes in subjects’ performances,” said Land. “It really helps us get a sense of how human cognition drives the body in performing actions, and this knowledge is important for facilitating the training and learning of motor skills.”
Though primarily framing their research in an athletic context, Land imagines their findings can be useful to other fields, too.
“Every day, we’re finding new applications for our work,” said Land. “I can easily see our work being used to help in physical therapy and rehabilitation to improve patients’ motions, for example, and we are beginning to make exploratory efforts into seeing the applications available there.”
UTSA is ranked among the top 400 universities in the world and among the top 100 in the nation, according to Times Higher Education.
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