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When I was in grade school, the idea of being athletic and smart was inconceivable. You were either good at sports or you were a book nerd who aced all their tests—at least, in the minds of my fellow classmates. I, however, played varsity soccer for four years and still managed to maintain my 3.8 grade point average: in part motivated by their assertion that I couldn’t do both. As far as I was concerned, the belief that someone could be smart or athletic, but definitely not both, was bologna. In fact, my athleticism aided my smarts and vice versa.

Playing soccer helped me become a better student: I learned effective decision-making strategies, experienced first-hand the power and importance of teamwork, and was always ready to perform to the best of my ability. These weren’t just self-proclaimed effects either, they were put to the test and observed every single day in class. Still, my classmates doubted how my abilities might carry over from one area of expertise to another. But now, new research proves just how an athlete’s abilities may improve their performance in other areas and what those measurements can mean.

This research finds that baseball players who score high on vision, sensory, and motor testing may be the batters to bet on. This study “Sensorimotor abilities predict on-field performance in professional baseball” from Duke Health found that baseball players who scored high on computerized motor and visual tasks had better batting averages as well as fewer strikeouts than those with lower scores.

To reach these findings, the researchers analyzed 252 baseball players from U.S. major and minor league teams. They were challenged with completing a series of vision and motor tasks—which consisted of nine exercises that resembled two-dimensional video games—on large touch-screen devices called Nike Sensory Stations. These tasks were designed to test an individual’s ability to gather information in a split second: much like examining a pitcher’s grip just before he launches a ball. They also measured skills like reaction time and hand-eye coordination.

After evaluating the participants’ performances, the researchers found that on average, those who performed better on the computerized task also displayed better batting performance for plate discipline measures. These measures included on-base percentage, strikeout rate, and walk rate—but not slugging percentage or pitching statistics, as explained by Kyle Burris, lead author of the study and Duke statistician: “In this study, we wanted to quantify the links between an athlete’s senses such as eyesight and motor control using task scores and game performance. We found positive relationships between several tasks and performance for hitters, but not for pitchers.”

More specifically, the researchers found that the high scores on a perception-span task—which measured a participant’s ability to memorize and reconstruct visual patterns—correlated with a greater ability to get on base. Furthermore, high scores in hand-eye coordination and reaction time were linked to an increased ability to draw walks, while high scores in spatial recognition—for example, the ability to redirect one’s attention between different targets—were associated with fewer strikeouts.

Burris explains the grounds of this important technology and what the above findings mean for the future of baseball: “There has been a data revolution in the game of baseball over the past decade with the introduction of technologies that track the speed and movement of every pitch, the location of players in the field, and other tools that can quantify player performance like never before,” said Burris. “We can’t say there’s a causal relationship between higher scores on the tasks and performance in games, but there was an association in the real-world date we evaluated. Regardless, this information could be useful in scouting, as well as providing possible training targets to improve on-field performance.”

Sources:
Duke Health (2018, January 8). Vision, Sensory and Motor Testing Could Predict Best Batters in Baseball. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved January 8, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/vision-motor-sensory-baseball-8287/

Burris, K., Vittetoe, K., Ramger, B., Suresh, S., Tokdar, S. T., Reiter, J. P. & Appelbaum, L. G. (2018, January 8). Sensorimotor abilities predict on-field performance in professional baseball. Scientific Reports. Retrieved on January 9, 2018 from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-18565-7

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