Sometimes a new athlete becomes part of our team , another time he have problems understanding why an athlete does not perform well or behaves strange. Profiling is meant to be able to understand and predict the behavior and the performance of our athletes.
In companies new employees often are subject to a personality tests or other ways of profiling.
There are many methods and concepts of profiling, but none is perfect, that is to say, can adequately predict human behavior to a full extent. We are simple too complex and too multi-layered to be analyzed with these inadequate and incomplete tools.
But I am not looking at perfection here, I am looking at a coarse filter that helps me to understand the athlete’s behavior and performance at least better than I did before.
We already do this by judging the athlete’s technical side, we look at their body structure, their technical skills, and their conditioning level in order to estimate and predict their potential. We do this for the longest time and we can do this rather well.
Often though the athlete’s limitations or problems are not to be found in these factors, because there is deeper problem at the root of it.
I start to work with 3 big chunks of information that are very important to me and tell me a lot about my athlete.
Most profiles are based on a polarity, like black or white, but most people can be found in the grey zone in between, just showing a slight dominance or preference in one of the directions. So almost never 100% black or 100% white, but if perfect grey is 50%/50%, they have 60% (darker grey) or 40% (lighter grey).
1. Brain dominance: since our brain (the organ with which we think we think), determines who we are and how we behave, it is a logical choice to look here first. I won’t go in here too deep, I would have to write a book about this subject.
Contrary to most other animals, the two halves of our human brain (that is shaped like a walnut) have a different structure and function. This has been established a long time ago, Roger Sperry is one of the prominent researchers in this area.
In most people one half of the brain (left or right) works more often than the other half, it is dominating in most activities, and this is an unconscious preference. Also keep in mind that it is just a model, a simplified representation of a much more complex reality.
You have to understand that there is no 100% accuracy here, but in right handed people, for example, the left brain contains the language centres (Broca and Wernicke) to understand and to produce human language.
In the table below you can find the qualities that have been attributed to the left or the right brain. The list is far from complete, but it gives you some insight how important his is to understand the athlete’s behavior. It helps you to understand things like perception, communication and behavior of the athlete.
How do we assess brain laterality or brain dominance?
1. simple observation, look and listen to your athlete until you got a picture related to the table above
2. by EEG or measure brain wave, which I did (but if you have an MRI-machine at home you can do it too)
3. questionnaire: the Human Information Processing Survey or look at the Ned Hermann surveys , which I used too.
Joseph, R: The naked neuron; Plenum Press, USA, 1993.
Springer, S.P; Deutsch, G: Left brain, right brain; W.H.Freeman Comp. USA, 2001.
Davidson, R.J; Hugdahl, K.(Eds.): Brain asymmetry, MIT Press, USA, 1995.
Herrmann, N: The creative brain; Brain Books, USA, 1990.
Joseph, R: The right brain and the unconscious; Plenum Press, USA, 1992.
Rogers, L.J; Vallortigara, G; Andrew, R,J: Divided brains; Cambridge University Press, UK, 2013.
Hugdahl, K; Westerhausen, R (Eds.): The two halves of the brain; MIT Press, USA, 2010.
Hugdahl, K; Davidson, R.J (Eds.): The asymmetrical brain; MIT Press, USA, 2003.
Hellige, J: Hemipsheric asymmetry; Harvard University Press, 2001.
2. Muscle fiber composition
This factor is more directly related to sports performance.
The muscle fiber composition tells us if the relevant muscles of the athlete’s body are more suited for explosive type sport or more for (aerobic) endurance type sports.
And yes, again, this is a simplified model of reality, since we only look at two (or three) types of muscle fibers and not at the wide range of possible subtypes, which are only interesting for scientific research but not really for practical work in the field.
Most muscles in the human body are a mix between the white, fast twitch or type II muscle fibers and the red, slow twitch or type I muscle fibers. The two muscle fiber types have distinct qualities for different tasks.
See the table below:
This factor is not only important for performance levels in itself, but also for injuries, trying to excel in an explosive event with 65% slow twitch fibers is like trying to win a NASCAR race or Formula 1 race with a Volkswagen beetle! Trying to run a marathon with 70% fast twitch fibers is like to enter Paris-Dakar rally with a Ferrari Formula 1 car. You’ll find out that the athlete is just not designed and suited to do that.
How can we assess muscle fiber composition?
1. Muscle biopsies are the most accurate way to assess muscle fiber composition, but they are expensive, invasive and quite bothersome since it needs to be done by a doctor and preferable one that has experience in doing this.
2. Bosco jump test: my mentor Carmelo Bosco was able, by having lots of athletes doing jumps and having biopsies made, to establish a good relationship between jumping height and fiber composition and turned this into an algorithm in the software with which one in two simple jump tests gets a good estimation of the percentage of FT fibers.
Dubowitz, V; Sewry, C; Oldefors, A: Muscle biopsy. A practical approach; Saunders USA, 2013.
Lieber, R.L: Skeletal muscle structure, function and plasticity; Wolters Kluwer, 2009.
Brooke, M,H; Kaiser, K.K: Muscle fiber types: How many and what kind?; Arch.Neurol. Vol.23, Oct.1970.pg.369-379.
Nikitjuk, B.A; Samoilov, N.G: Die Adaptationsmechanismen von Muskelfasern an körperliche Belastungen und Möglichkeiten ihrer Prozesssteuerung; Leistungssport No.5, 1993, pg. 15-17.
Gollnick, P.D; Armstrong, R.B; Saubert, C.W; Piehl, K; Saltin, B: Enzyme activity and fiber composition in skeletal muscle of trained and untrained men; J.Appl.Physiol. Vol.33, No.3, 1972, pg.312-319.
Viitasalo, J.T; Komi, P.V: Force-time characteristics and fiber composition in human leg extensor muscles; Eur.J. Appl.Physiol. Vol.40, pg. 7-15, 1978.
Thorstensson, A; Grimby, G; Karlsson, J: Force-velocity relations and fiber composition in human knee extensor muscles; J.Appl.Physiol.Vol.40, No1, 1976, pg.12-16.
Schiaffino, S; Reggiani, C: Fiber types in mammalian skeletal muscle; Physiol. Rev. Vol.91, 2011, pg. 1447-1531.
Coyle, E;.F; Costill, D..L; Lesmes, G.R: Leg extension power and muscle fiber composition; Med.Sci Sports, Vol.11, No.1, 1979, pg.12-15.
Costill, D.L; Daniels, J; Evans, W; Fink, W; Krahenbuhl, G; Saltin, B: Skeletal muscle enzymes and fiber composition in male and female track athletes; J.Appl.Physiol.Vol.40, No.2, 1975, pg.149-154.
MacIntosh, B.R; Herzog, W; Suter, E; Preston Wiley, J; Sokolosky, J:Human skeletal muscle fibre types and force:velocity properties; Eur.J.Appl.Physiol. Vol.67, 1993, pg.499-506.
Iaia, F.M; Perez-Gomez, J; Thomassen, M; Nordsborg, N.B: Hellsten, Y; Bangsbo, J: Relationships between performance at different exercise intensities and skeletal muscle characteristics; J.App. Physiol. Vol.110, 2011, pg.1555-1563.
Zierath, J.R; Hawley, J.A; Skeletal muscle fiber type: influence on contractile and metabolic properties; PLoS Biol. Vol.2, No.10, 2004, e348, pg. 1523-1527.
Lieber, R.L; Ward, S.R: Skeletal muscle design to meet functional demands; Phil.Trans.R. Soc.B Vol.366, 2011, pg.1466-1476.
3 bloomer or breaker? (under pressure)
At the highest level the ability to perform at your best at very high stress is crucial for success.
Many physically gifted athletes did not fulfill their full potential because they failed to deliver at the crucial time e.g. The final of the Olympic Games or World Championships.
Yes, of course, we are able to improve it, but it’s easier if one bring this quality form the very beginning. And of course it is influenced by genetic factors, by upbringing and education and by having the right coach.
That is why I also explore this factor in my athletes : stress coping skills and resilience. We can use sophisticated methods but in the end many of us have to do without this sophisticated and expensive equipment. Most of the time we already know the history of the athlete, does he or she crack under pressure of do they need the pressure to perform well?
A simple analysis of previous competitions will tell. Do they perform better on their home turf, where the chance of doing well are good, their parents are in the stadium and they feel comfortable, or do they perform better when the heat is on, in the big stadium, unknown territory, and when they are not sure about success or failure beforehand? This is an adequate indication if your athlete is a breaker or a bloomer. Or like said above in the grey zone of the “benders”, who always perform like we might expect, at least they are never far off, they do not crack under pressure, not do they surpass themselves.
Milton, J; Solodkin, A; Hlustik, P; Small, S.L: The mind of the expert motor performance is cool and focused; NeuroImage, Vol.35, 2007, pg 804-813.
Salvador, A: Coping with competitive situation in humans; Neuroscience and Biobehav. Rev. Vol.29, 2005, pg.195-205.
Beckmann, J; Gröpel, P; Ehrlenspiel, F: Preventing motor skill failure though hemisphere-specific priming: cases from choking under pressure; J.Exp.Psychol. Vol.142, No3, 2013,pg.679-691.(Note: interesting, because here we see factor 1 and factor 3 interlinked!)
Chalabaev, A; Major, B; Cury, F; Sarrazin, P: Physiological markers of challenge and threat mediate the effects of performance-based goals for performance; J.Exp.Soc.Psychol. Vol.45, No4, 2009, pg.991-994.
With these three factors above, we cover a lot of the behaviour and the performance of the athlete.
There is a lot of room for improvement here, but in the past explored that and if you are not willing or able to invest a lot of time, effort and money into this, these three factors are excellent tools for a starting point.