Women playing soccer

Training toward specific performance goals can change the calculus about the order of your workout. (Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash)

COLCHESTER, United Kingdom — Every single second is pivotal on the playing field, and elite athletes and sports organizations spare no expense in pursuit of peak performances. Now, however, researchers at the University of Essex suggest that tapping into a higher level of speed may be as easy as hearing a few words. Scientists say hearing simple analogies such as “sprinting like a jet plane taking off” can instantly boost sprinting speed.

Specifically, the researchers, in collaboration with Tottenham Hotspur F.C., found that athletes hearing these encouraging words saw their speed increase by three percent over 20 meters (65.6 feet).

Normally, study authors explain that it can takes weeks of targeted training exercises to achieve such a large speed increase. Such short bursts of acceleration are largely seen in goal-scoring situations during soccer games (football outside the U.S.) and could determine whether or not goals are scored, and games are won.

All in all, the research team believe their latest work shows how elite young players run faster when focusing on their environment as opposed to their bodies.

“The words we speak to athletes have a demonstrable and instant effect on their performance,” says Dr. Jason Moran, from the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, in a media release. “It’s long been known that it’s better to direct an athlete’s attention to the environment around them rather than focusing on their body positions which seems to interfere with the fluidity of movement.”

“This could be enhanced even further by using certain analogies, for example, asking a player to ‘accelerate like a Ferrari’ may create a more evocative image in their mind instead of simply telling them to run fast.”

Men playing soccer
Scientists say hearing simple analogies such as “sprinting like a jet plane taking off” can instantly boost sprinting speed. (Photo by Alexander Nadrilyanski from Pexels)

This study included 20 members of the North London side’s academy, all either 14 or 15 years-old. Prior to engaging in sprint drills, the players received different directions before running. Those who heard external analogies telling them to “push the ground away” achieved better results than others who heard “driving their legs into the ground.”

The very best performances, meanwhile, appeared spurred on by the statement “sprint as if you are a jet taking off into the sky ahead.”

For coaches, analogies have long been used to help players learn how to move their bodies in the right way by virtue of hiding complicated instructions within simple spoken words. For instance, through the use of analogies, a coach can tell an athlete how fast and in what position their body should be – all while avoiding hard-to-understand technical terms.

These tactics may be especially helpful for young learners showing relatively lower levels of focus. Besides pro sports, study authors add these cues and coaching tactics may also prove useful for PE lessons and at the grassroots level.

“Although these findings focus on the highest level of youth football, it could easily be used in schools or on a Saturday morning,” Dr. Moran concludes. “By using a simple analogy teachers and parents might be able to get the most out of their kids whatever the sport.”

The study is published in the Journal of Sports Science.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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1 Comment

  1. PJ London says:

    The fastest you will ever move is when you hear the words “Oh My God, it is my husband.”