Photos: Nicolas Gizpenc
To commit this kind of time and energy takes a special discipline that’s unique to professional athletes.
“I have been doing this long enough to know that I’m capable of making my body do things it doesn’t think it can do,” shared Melgaard.
Murphy, who has been skiing professionally for 24 years, agreed. “What goes on in my mind is almost automatic. Over time, I have deepened my understanding of the sport, so I train my body to respond to that information,” he explained.
If pro athletes sound like they operate a bit differently than the rest of us, that’s because they do. A slew of recent studies point to a marked difference in their brains. It turns out that while their physical prowess may start in their genes, the change in their brains derives from their practice.
In one recent study, researchers from the Institute of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the number of years an athlete competed predicted how thick the outermost layers of the brain would be in sections that link learning and movement.
Another study done at Sapienza University in Rome demonstrated how pro athletes emit stronger alpha waves than other people, which means they devote less brain activity to doing tasks and therefore act more instinctively.
These studies point to the fact that it takes practice – lots and lots of practice – to develop the athlete’s brain.