The Brain Science of Muscle Memory: QBSIM and Repetition
This is the tagline for the SportsVTS QBSIM offering, and the experts concur.
Joe Lombardi, grandson of the great Vince Lombardi, says that “repetition is the key to mastery”. Jake Plummer, a retired NFL quarterback states that “virtual repetition is an invaluable tool for quarterbacks”. As a learning scientist, I have argued that the “key is to train muscle memory through physical repetition with a real ball while making real football moves”.
One would be hard pressed to find any former, current or aspiring quarterback or coach who would argue against the value of realistic, real-time repetition. Repetition develops muscle memory and leads to expertise. Expertise allows the quarterback to focus all of their cognitive resources on making effective split-second decisions, and not on the physical aspects of the game. Repetition and expertise makes the quarterback faster, more accurate and more immune to pressure and adversity on the playing field.
“Repetition develops muscle memory and leads to expertise”
Although we all know this at an intuitive level, few understand the brain basis of muscle memory and the development of expertise through repetition.
This article provides an overview of the brain science of repetition and expertise and addresses the question of how one can effectively develop muscle memory and expertise in a quarterback without exposing them to the potential for injury.
To anticipate, the psychological and brain science are clear. QBSIM, the newest quarterback training platform from the team at SportsVTS, meets this challenge and provides an ideal tool for training muscle memory and developing expertise through extensive real-time repetitions, all in virtual reality with no potential for injury.
“QBSIM provides an ideal tool for training muscle memory and developing expertise through extensive real-time repetitions”
The Brain Science of Muscle Memory
The goal of quarterback drills and practice is to develop muscle memory and expertise at the position. As I have written previously, the only way to develop muscle memory is to utilize training procedures that engage the behavioral skills learning system in the brain. It is worth mentioning that the term “muscle memory” is actually a misnomer. Muscles don’t have memory in the traditional sense. Rather, it is the brain that stores the commands necessary to engage the muscles. The best way to recruit the behavioral skills learning system in the brain is to have the quarterback hold a real ball, make real football moves (e.g., drop back into the pocket or scramble should the defense blitz), and throw the ball while watching its trajectory. Critically, the quarterback must also receive immediate feedback regarding the accuracy of the throw and whether the pass was, knocked down, complete, incomplete or intercepted. All of this must happen in real-time.
When the pass is performed correctly, the relevant neural connections in the behavioral skills learning system are strengthened and those passing mechanics will be more likely to occur the next time that the quarterback is in that same situation. If the pass is performed incorrectly, the relevant neural connections are weakened and those passing mechanics will be less likely to occur the next time that the quarterback is in the same situation. This strengthening and weakening is controlled by the neurotransmitter, dopamine and involves learning circuits in the basal ganglia of the brain.
Muscle Memory, Repetitions and Expertise
Each repetition or throw provides an opportunity for an incremental increase in muscle memory in the basal ganglia. However, muscle memory is not expertise. At the risk of taking a deeper dive into the brain science, suffice it to say that the goal of the behavioral skills learning system, and its dopamine-mediated learning mechanism in the basal ganglia is to train direct neural connections between sensory regions in the brain and motor regions in the brain. In other words, an expert quarterback evaluates the current situation with their sensory brain machinery, makes a decision to throw a pass and almost instantaneously the motor program necessary to make the throw is implemented. This is a two-stage process that is fast, accurate, and utilizes almost no cognitive resources. When television analysts and seasoned veterans talk about the game “slowing down” for the experienced quarterback that is a reflection of this two-stage process kicking in and driving behavior. The game really has slowed down for the experienced quarterback because their reactions are faster, more accurate, and require little cognitive effort.
“The game really has slowed down for the experienced quarterback because their reactions are faster, more accurate, and require little cognitive effort.”
On the other hand, a quarterback-in-training evaluates the current situation with their sensory brain machinery and makes a decision to throw a pass. This initiates a cascade of activation from sensory brain regions to the basal ganglia to motor areas that initiate the throw. This is a three-stage process that is slower, less accurate, and utilizes cognitive resources. When the television analysts talk about the game being “too fast” for the rookie quarterback that is a reflection of this three-stage process driving behavior. Each repetition, and cycle through the three-stage learning process, strengthens the sensory-motor connections in the two-stage “expertise” process. With enough repetitions, the fast and accurate two-stage process takes over, learning is complete, and expertise has been achieved.
“With enough repetitions, the fast and accurate two-stage process takes over, learning is complete, and expertise has been achieved.”
QBSIM: The Ideal Platform for Repetition and Development of Expertise
This brief review of the brain science highlights the problem facing the quarterback. The quarterback needs enough realistic, game-situation, physical repetitions to obtain expertise.
How might one realize expertise and obtain enough repetitions, all without the risk of injury?
The brain science suggests that QBSIM provides an ideal solution.
With QBSIM, the quarterback holds a real football, and is able to drop back into the pocket or scramble should the defense blitz. The quarterback is able to throw the real ball and see its trajectory in the virtual world. The quarterback receives immediate feedback regarding the accuracy of the throw and whether the pass was complete or incomplete. All of this happens in real-time and with no physical contact.
QBSIM’s proprietary patent pending technology tracks the ball accurately from the real to the virtual world. Combine this real-time simulation technology with the fact that QBSIM also incorporates proprietary processes for incorporating years of real game data, and you have a platform that allows the quarterback to obtain hundreds and hundreds of reps with a nearly infinite range of realistic offensive and defensive schemes. Coaches can choose exactly what situations they want their QBs to master and in what order. This approach facilitates the development of muscle memory and most importantly expertise.
“QBSIM facilitates the development of muscle memory, trains for generalization, and most importantly expertise”
QBSIM is a game changer and holds the future of quarterback training!
Todd Maddox, Ph.D. is the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting, LLC, a Contributing Analyst at Amalgam Insights, Inc, and the Science, Sports and Training Correspondent at Tech Trends. His passion is to apply his 25 years of scientific and neuroscientific expertise, gained by managing a large human learning and performance laboratory, to help businesses build better training products. Todd published over 200 scientific articles resulting in over 10,000 academic citations. Todd is a prolific learning science speaker, and to date, has won over $10 million in federal grants from the National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, and Department of Defense. Todd received his Ph.D. in Quantitative and Cognitive Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara that was followed by a two-year post-doctoral Research Fellowship at Harvard University. Todd then embarked on a 25-year academic research career achieving status as a leader in the fields of human learning and memory with an emphasis in understanding the computational interplay between motivation, personality and incentive structures and their effects on optimized learning, memory and training. Todd is especially interested in applying his optimized training expertise to corporate and sports training and the emerging technologies of VR/AR/MR. He is currently writing a book focused on bringing the science of optimized training into the commercial sector. Twitter: @wtoddmaddox