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Students test muscle memory on the basketball court

Elsner psych-red jacket, blindfold
Dr. Robert Elsner, left, and Jeremy Carroll, center, assist Rachel Moore as she prepares to make a shot while blindfolded.

Professor of Psychology Dr. Robert Elsner took his Sport Psychology class to Galloway Physical Activities Center recently for a basketball-shooting experiment.

“The lab was to demonstrate that once a muscle memory is acquired, then reactivation of the precise set of actions only requires the mental imagery of achieving the desired goal,” Elsner said.

Each of Elsner’s students learned that lesson through personal experience.

Sophomore Leandro Bolanos Melgar, an international student from Peru who is double majoring in business and psychology, enjoyed the experiment.

“We were developing muscle memory with free throws,” he said. “It was really amazing how you can make a successful free throw just by imaging yourself doing it.”

Kathleen Watkins secures Chelsy Hunter's blindfold.
Kathleen Watkins secures Chelsy Hunter’s blindfold.

Junior Chelsy Hunter, an athletic training major from Anderson, said, “We learned that if you think about the shot going in and taking the process of the shot slowly, then it will most of the time go in.”

Elsner assisted his students as class members practiced free throws and then tried the same activity wearing a blindfold.

Focusing on “the way you have to use mental skills in different sports” was exciting for the students, Hunter said.

“Everybody in the class loved the fact that they could shoot it thinking about it mentally, even if they had never played basketball before.”

“While not all sporting activities come under such a tight set of constraints as a free throw, many are similar,” Elsner explained.

Tennis player Mika Goyette gets some basketball instruction from her psychology professor.
Tennis player Mika Goyette gets some basketball instruction from her psychology professor.

“In class there were many people who had never played basketball, yet were still making four or five baskets in a row blindfolded, once the proper technique of shooting was taught to them.”

Some students found that the blindfold could actually help them as they attempted free throws.

“A few students were able to hit nine out of ten shots blindfolded once they were able to ignore distractions and performance anxiety that decreases performance,” Elsner said.



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