Saturday, 7 August 2010

Improve Your Life: Start Motor Racing

The title of this latest blog sounds like a well dodgy bit of advice. But there could well be more than just a ring of truth about it as I discovered this week.

I returned to squash after a break through injury. It's been six weeks since I last played and was itching to get back into the game. Usually after a break like this fitness suffers and so defeat is likely.

My squash partner, Mick, plays a couple of tables above me in the league and usually beats me 3-2 when I'm match fit. He's been playing continuously during my absence.

Yet on Tuesday, to my surprise, I only lost by three games to two. I put that down to luck. We played again on Thursday night and quite remarkably I won the match 3-0. After securing victory, we played on but as my speed and stamina fell through the floor we levelled at three games all.

We continued on and a second wind gave me another two games and we finished that evening at 5-3. It was a great session. I was hitting nice volley drop-shots just above the tin with good accuracy and predicting the ball much more. The odd thing is, this sort of stuff should not be happening after a six week break.

Now I naturally assumed Mick was having an off week, as we all do. But he remarked my play had significantly improved, in particular I was thinking a lot harder about the shots as if I had more time for the shots.

That last bit got me thinking on the way home. The only sport I had continued was karting. Could that have improved my play? Once home, I had found an interesting paper written for the British Journal of Sports Medicine by a team from the University of Potsdam in Germany.* "Reactivity, stability, and strength performance capacity in motor sports" examined the reaction times of racing drivers in the 2005 GT Sports Car Championship. They looked at the entire Porsche GT3 factory team. These guys were compared with non-racing driver athletes of the same age and build to see what could be gleaned for training.

Generally the professional racing drivers had at least an 11% improvement in reaction times over their "control" counterparts. Hardly surprising because drivers with good built-in reactions are those who are most likely to succeed in the sport.

Negotiating a fast right hander as it starts to rain, pulling some nice Gs too. Picture a video grab from GoPro Motor Sports Wide camera mounted to radiator

I wanted to know if motor racing -- in my case karting -- could improve reaction times, so I pinged off an email to Dr Heiner Baur, who co-wrote the report.

He replied: "The reaction time is pretty much predetermined in absolute terms. Your karting (or your squash matches) might improve decision making in game/driving situations.

"The pro drivers we are dealing with - at least some of them - are also quite good squash, tennis or a basketball players. Fast decision making is therefore a crucial factor."

And now the interesting bit. If decision making is improved for sports, what's to say that that improvement cannot be applied across other areas in life? After all, decision-making capabilties are vital in everything we do if we can demonstrate that we correctly react to the information we receive in a fast manner. Certainly food for thought.

A word of warning though to end this piece. The improvements to your life by taking up motor racing are likely to be seriously outweighed by the hit on your wallet to fund the sport!

* "Reactivity, stability, and strength performance capacity in motor sports" by H Baur, S Muller, A Hirschmuller, G Huber, F Mayer. Br J Sports Med 2006;40:906–911.

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