“The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius” by Zach Schonbrun— How We Understand Athletic Genius

Schonbrun, Zach. “The Performance Cortex: How Neuroscience Is Redefining Athletic Genius”, Dutton, 2018.

How We Understand Athletic Genius

Amos Lassen

“The Performance Cortex” explains athletic genius and gives us a new perspective on the science of elite sporting performance. We have all heard these questions: “Why couldn’t Michael Jordan, master athlete that he was, hit a baseball? Why can’t modern robotics come close to replicating the dexterity of a five-year-old? Why do good quarterbacks always seem to know where their receivers are?” yet we have never really had them answered except by speculation.

Writer Zach Schonbrun had done extensive research to look at what actually drives human movement and its spectacular potential. He traces the fascinating history of motor research and gives details of how new investigations in the brain help to explain the extraordinary skills of talented performers like Stephen Curry, Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Lionel Messi. He also looks at musical virtuosos, dancers, rock climbers, racecar drivers, and more.

We know that movement (regardless of how much) requires extraordinary computation that many of us have taken for granted until now. “The Performance Cortex” takes us into a new way of thinking about the athletic gifts that we strain to see. Now we are looking at the brain. What is so intriguing is that the athletes themselves seem to have no idea how they do much of what they do, because it occurs beneath their conscious awareness. Schonbrun reveals the latest science on how elite athletic feats are actually accomplished. Letting us understand the genius behind sports. He tells us that the next wave of athletic training will look at the relationship between the mind and the body, and the neuroscience that seeks to explore and exploit this interaction to create better athletes. 

We see that despite the emphasis that we putt on hard work and grit, most professional athletes are not elite only because of the extra training hours or their particular body build. Mental analytics is the next frontier in sports and new companies are already exploring new ways to conquer it. “The more we understand the brain’s impact on the way our bodies move, the more obvious it is that sports and neuroscience cannot be separated. Soon, scanning draft prospects’ brains with an EEG will become as much of a standard as a yearly physical.” We certainly have seen the opposite of this with respect to Aaron Hernandez and the new theories as to why he went from a star to a murderer and taking his own life.

 The book not only challenges how we understand athletic genius, but, it fundamentally changes how we see the intersection of athleticism, the brain, and the future of sports.

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