Very frequently we come across the term muscle memory in sports. Depending upon who you listen to, it exists or it doesn’t. In general the term is close enough to understand what the person means when using it. Perhaps there is a better term that we hear less frequently, or perhaps it still needs a name.
When I think of memory, I think of the word recall. Can I access something quickly and efficiently when I need it? I know my name is Paul and unless my brain function takes a dramatic turn for the worse, I can count on knowing my name is Paul for a few more years to come.
If I need access to my extension side fastball, can I dial it up when necessary? That’s when I begin to question whether we are talking ‘memory’ or if we are talking something else entirely. I may get something close to my extension side fastball even though I have attempted to throw it several thousand times. Can I say I have muscle memory or muscle Alzheimer’s?
Major league pitchers miss their target by an average of 8" and top performers are close to 6" of average miss, according to the last article I read on the subject whose author eludes me–perhaps I am taking my continued brain function a bit too much for granted Anyway, I think you see where I’m going with this. Would you call that ‘muscle memory’? I don’t think I would. Compared to the youth average miss of 17-24 inches from intended target, I’ll take 8" all day. By the way coaches, how are you feeling about your stellar go-to verbal feedback of “Just throw strikes,” for 9 year old Timmy?
I still can’t convince myself that’s memory. That’s like knowing your child’s name starts with a ‘C’. We could all adopt George Foreman’s philosophy and name all our children ‘George’. Well, maybe not. Raise your hand if you intended to throw a fastball down and away and it caught the inside corner for called strike 3. OK, put your hand back down. We’ve all done it…and taken credit for the pinpoint location of our kill shot.
I think that after repeating a pattern time after time after time, etc…we develop movement patterns within a given range and that the more we repeat, the more we refine and limit the range of that movement pattern. Think of all the muscles that are involved in throwing a baseball and the sequencing and timing of it all. Your synapses need to fire in precisely the correct moment for the ball to find the right sliver of home plate…all without the benefit of GPS!
Professional athletes can tighten up that range significantly more than the rest of us. Their central nervous system GPS works a lot better than ours. Why? Because they keep paying for the updates! (putting in the time during properly focused practice)Their extremes (detours) are less drastic than ours. They are able to hone in on the fastest route, so to speak, a lot faster than we can.
Another key component is that one would have had to experienced the optimal pattern at least once in order to recognize it and how it feels when it’s done right as well as have the ability to closely approximate that result repetitively. We can all benefit from a coach riding shotgun and pointing us in the right direction until our GPS software is current.
Perhaps a better term for muscle memory is ‘pattern optimization.’ Maybe it’s not. Perhaps you have come across a better term and would like to share.
Wow! You are still reading this. Those are two minutes of your life you will never get back