One day when I was a kid, my neighborhood friends were frantically knocking on my door. They told me I had to come outside with them and that I needed to grab some baseballs and my ball glove. I grabbed the equipment and followed them two streets over to see something we had only dreamed of. Our local police department had dropped off a car radar speed detector.
We immediately got to work. One friend squatted down next to the machine, and I began to throw as hard as possible. We tried to get the radar gun to catch our fastball’s velocities. Long story short, the radar gun never read our throws. We were crushed but still had fun trying to get a reading on it. Just FYI, they are meant to catch the speeds of large vehicles, not baseballs.
In sports, athletes are always trying to hone their craft. As a kid, nothing is cooler than showcasing raw power. Other examples besides fastball velocity can be the speed of a tennis serve; how far you can drive a golf ball, kick a ball, your 40-yard dash time, you get the idea. All these are essential aspects of their given sports. Anytime we can improve these results are a good thing.
Recent research has provided a strategy for tennis players to instantly improve velocity on the serve. No special warmup or strength and conditioning protocols are needed—no supplements or energy drinks- just a little psychological trick called augmented feedback.
Augmented feedback (AF) is a psychological trick used by athletes and coaches to improve their movement techniques and enhance performance. Augmented feedback is information given to the user based on their results or performance. An easy practical definition for AF is when an athlete gets feedback on how they did or instruction on how to do something. In tennis, being told the ball landed inside or outside the service box is augmented feedback. The speed on a radar gun is augmented feedback. A fan yelling to knock it out of the park is another example.
Researchers in Switzerland proved the usefulness of AF in a group of elite-level tennis athletes. They had the athletes perform 100 serves each, with different types of feedback given throughout the testing. Their fastest serves came after being given augmented feedback for all the athletes. Specifically, the phrase, “Serve as fast as possible while landing the serve in the target zone and try to maximize the speed shown on the screen,” was used.
Now don’t take this study too literally. You don’t have to use that exact phrase. You don’t even have to speak at all. Visual cues work too. Like when I was a kid, a radar gun can effectively improve performance through motivation. It got us off our couches because the prospect of seeing our velocities measured was exciting. I guarantee we tried to throw harder that day than we would at a regular baseball practice. Athletes are naturally competitive. Good athletes rise to those challenges if someone yells out and challenges us to hit the ball harder when a radar gun is turned on.
AF For Athletes
Sometimes it can be hard to self-motivate. For a sport like tennis, the coach can often be on another court, coaching another athlete. If there’s no radar gun, a simple self-pep talk can give all the feedback needed to boost your own velocity. “I need to crush the ball” is a simple, intuitive phrase. Athletes often overthink things. “If I just keep my foot at a 45-degree angle, jump 4.7 inches off the ground while maintaining my hips in a forward position….” that’s overthinking it. Focusing on detailed movements such as this is proven to potentially slow things down. It’s hard to think about ten things at once while trying to be explosive. The best athletes perform their craft subconsciously, without thought. Not overthinking things, with the only thought being to give your best effort, is an effective performance-boosting method.
AF For Coaches
Coaches coach. It is literally in the job description to give their athletes feedback on performance. The communication should be clear and direct. And research shows that words that focus on improved performance will deliver just that, improved performance. Negative feedback such as pointing out mechanical problems or highlighting a failure often proves to have a negative effect. If you want the most out of your athletes, tell them what you want them to do, not tell them what they did wrong. “Crush the ball, give me your best one right here, and ‘you got this” are all examples of positive augmented feedback that work. On the tennis court, this methodology shows this instantly improves serve velocity.
AF For All Sports
This feedback method was proven to improve the speeds of a small group of elite tennis athletes. There is no doubt that this also works for other athletes in different sports. Want to drive a golf ball farther? Measure the distances. Want faster fastballs? Radar gun. Want to lift a heavier weight? Tell yourself you’ve got this.
Augmented feedback is a safe and effective method for improving performance. In the experiment, AF did not adversely affect ball accuracy. But just because it had no effects on elite tennis players doesn’t mean AF can’t throw you off your game. Use AF methods wisely and only if they seem to work for you in practice. Athletes and coaches, give AF a try and see if it boosts athletic performance.