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Can brainwaves predict baseball performance?

Anthony Pluta pitching for the Victoria Seals in 2010. Credit: Christian Stewart.

Hitting a baseball is considered to be one of the most difficult skills in any sport. So, what makes a batter successful? Some think it requires that the athlete be in “the zone”—a mental state in which performance is optimal. But what is “the zone”? Can it be quantified?

Olav Krigolson, a neuroscientist with the University of Victoria’s Centre for Biomedical Research, and professional baseball veteran and graduate student, Anthony Pluta, used portable brainwave technology to see if they could predict baseball batting performance.

Working out of Krigolson’s Neuroeconomics Lab at UVic, Pluta—who pitched for Major League Baseball affiliate organizations in Canada, Japan and the US for 13 years—recorded brainwave data from 60 baseball players for a few minutes prior to batting practice using a portable electroencephalographic (EEG) headband. Next, players had batting practice and their performance was rated by three highly experienced coaches in terms of pitch recognition, form, power and contact with the ball.

When Krigolson and Pluta analyzed the data, they were surprised to find that the higher the batter’s brain activity in the beta range (16-30 Hz)—a range typically associated with increased cognition and concentration—the worse they performed during batting practice. Players with lower activity in the beta range hit better during batting practice, a range associated with a more relaxed state.

Importantly, by using EEG technology prior to batting, their results suggest that measuring brain activity is a more reliable indicator of performance than more indirect or observational interpretations.

The next steps for this project include expanding the scope of players tested and the number of other baseball skills for which performance can be predicted. They also hope to work with other teams in a variety of sports.

Study participants included members of the UBC Thunderbirds, Douglas College Royals and a number of Vancouver and Vancouver Island-based elite high-school baseball players. The study, conducted as part of Pluta’s Master of Science (Kinesiology) thesis project which he will be completing this month, was supported by grants to Krigolson’s lab through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Pluta began his studies at UVic in 2012 after he retired from professional baseball. While doing his MSc thesis work in Krigolson's lab, Pluta also became a certified competition development coach in the National Coaches Certification Program (NCCP) which is the highest level of certification possible in Canada for baseball.

MEDIA ADVISORY: Anthony Pluta and Olav Krigolson will be demonstrating the technology for members of the media with several members of the Victoria HarbourCats today, Aug. 1 at 3 p.m., before their batting practice at Royal Athletic Park, 1014 Caledonia Ave., Victoria.

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 A media kit containing photos of Pluta is available on Dropbox. On Aug. 2, it will also contain photos from the data collection demonstration with the HarbourCats.

Photos

Media contacts

Olav Krigolson (Centre for Biomedical Research) at 250-721-7843 or krigolson@uvic.ca

Anthony Pluta (MSc student/Kinesiology) at ajpluta3@gmail.com

Suzanne Ahearne (University Communications + Marketing) at 250-721-6139 or sahearne@uvic.ca


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