Learning Transfer in Athletics
By Bryan Caplan
Intriguing email from EconLog reader Jason Braswell, reprinted with his permission.
Hi there. I’m a long-time reader of your blog who is currently reading your latest book. After reading your first section on the failure of cognitive skills to transfer, I thought you might be interested to know (if you don’t already) that the situation is exactly analogous when it comes to physical skills.
While it’s true that non-neurological physical training adaptations (like strength increases due to increased muscle cross-sectional area, flexibility, and VO2 max) can improve performance in a variety of sports, neurological adaptations are painfully specific. For instance, improving one’s balance on a wobble board yields no improvement in balance on stable ground. Improvements in squat strength (when due to better neuromuscular coordination) don’t yield improvements in vertical leap height. Improvements in power output for a certain movement show little transfer to even to the same movement at different speeds. For example, increasing your power output at moving a five pound object may yield little to no improvement when moving a 50 pound object in the same manner.
Much like cognitive researchers’ failure to find a way to (durably) improve g, sports training researchers don’t have a good way to make better general athletes. I happened across this link with a number of studies on the topic.
It’s indirect evidence, but I still think it should nudge one’s priors in favor of your claims as well.
P.S. Though I’m not much of a sports guy, I do briefly discuss “detraining” – the physical analog of forgetting.