Can Mirror Neurons Help Us Become Better Athletes?

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Just over a couple of years ago, we talked about the sports spectating phenomenon known as mirror neuron, here on our blog.  In a nutshell it’s about the idea that we’re not just watching other people’s action (in this case, a soccer match), we can actually feel ourselves in it. To a certain extent, our minds seemingly go through the ordeal these athletes experience, as if we’re part of the action.

The article pointed out, as a simple example, how we see someone stub his or her little toe really hard on the edge of a piece of furniture, and we feel that particular pain. It’s our brain’s way of reminding us of that exact feeling – going through flashbacks of past scenarios. This is also what happens if we watch sports. Some of us have played soccer growing up, so watching say a World Cup, Major League Soccer, or even a UEFA Champions League match gets us excited. However, aside from enjoying every bit of action on the pitch and understanding what the players are feeling, is it possible we learn soccer skills just by watching?

Here, again, is where these so-called mirror neurons come into play.

One of the things that set us apart from other species is our aptitude to learn from other people. Subconsciously, we adapt their movements, the basic ideas of them; we just can’t perform them as well as how professionals do them. Also by watching live inside a venue or in front of a television, we’ll know if a shot goes in. In hindsight, soccer players – specifically those who play on the grandest stage like the UEFA Champions League – are some of the most finely tuned athletes in the world. Stephen Tudor, a soccer journalist who regularly contributes pieces to the Champions League section on claims these soccer players are very similar to that of Formula One engines. For this reason alone, professional soccer players are activating our mirror neurons, instinctively teaching us how to execute actions and acquire skills in the process.

Back in 2010, researchers at UCLA conducted a study about the deeper intricacies of mirror neurons. They found a subset of brain cells that show it actually inhibits activity, probably telling the observers to escape reality and adapt what the mirror neurons were imitating. These same specials cells might also be the reason why we love sports so much, according to Axon Potential

So ultimately, this answers the question of whether or not we get better at sports just by watching them. If we’re a soccer player whose talents are nowhere near the standard of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, then watching won’t help us skill-wise. Part of this is because soccer – or any other sport for that matter – has techniques that are different and have more to them than just what we see on the surface. Mirror neurons, for its part, give us the feeling of “what ifs,” and at the end of the day, gives us a glorious glimpse of what it’s like to score a goal. So it’s up to us to be inspired to practice our chosen sport seriously or watch it passionately. Either way, it’s a win-win situation for us all.

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