Ask the G4 Athlete: End on a Good Note?

29 July 2013
Mental Edge
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Ask the G4 Athlete: End on a Good Note?

“I’ve heard it said during practice, ‘Always end on a good note.’ Does this phrase refer to the superstitions of athletes wanting to keep things consistent or is there a scientific reason behind ending practice on a good note?” — Sam

Thanks for the question, Sam. It’s always good to put a critical eye on your practice because these are the times where you encounter the most improvement.

It seems self-explanatory that always ending on a good note is an important thing to do. Another way we phrase it is “finishing strong.” Why wouldn’t you want to practice well?

There is, however, important evidence suggesting ending on a good note and finishing strong helps you perform better in games and in later practices.

Brain Matters

In a previous blog, we discussed the importance of practicing a perfect technique. The idea, in short, was that practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect permanent.

But the idea runs even deeper due to the way our brain works. It is important to end on a perfect repetition because when we end on a perfect technique during practice, our brain is set up to remember that repetition for next time. Studies indicate our brain remembers the last practice technique — this is where we get the idea of muscle memory. Ending on a good note and finishing strong contributes to building muscle memory.

Our brain is extremely plastic in the sense that it changes on a daily basis depending on what you require it to do. And yet, it captures and stores our activities so when we return to them, we have the experience and understanding of the task we need to perform.

So if you always end your practice on a repetition that is not very good, perhaps because you are tired, then the brain remembers that last repetition and will recall that last swing or throw the next practice you have, reinforcing bad technique.

Psychology Matters

From a psychological standpoint, people prefer sequences of outcomes that improve over time. Therefore, ending on a good note and finishing strong keeps this sequence in place and it improves the drive to continue practice when you start again later. It is important to have positive reinforcement in your activity and ending on a good note or finishing strong is a way to keep the positive progression ongoing.

Ending on a good note or finishing strong is not some cliche your coach urges you to do; it actually is a process to help you improve, Sam. If you make your last free throw at basketball practice but do it with poor form, you build poor muscle memory and poor results will follow.

But your brain wants you to end on a good note and to finish strong. Therefore, it is in your best interest to end your practice on a perfect technique.

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