Brain Off, Game On: The Unconscious Mind of a Goalkeeper

By Natalie Ryan, Ohio Wesleyan University

Soccer has been a constant presence throughout my whole life, building a relentless competitor with an unwavering work ethic. At the age of 7, I chose to play goalkeeper, a decision that has followed me into adulthood as I now play at the collegiate level. As I have grown older and the level of play has exponentially increased, sometimes I wonder how I make the saves that I do. Due to this internship, I have learned a little bit more about why I can make some of those saves.

The main focus of this internship has been surrounding the workings and limitations of consciousness in everyday life. Applying this to sports, especially soccer, it has been shown that consciousness is way too slow to be meaningful when split-second decisions are necessary. In these instances, the unconscious systems in the brain actually take over and control the behaviors and movements necessary during these athletic activities. So when I make a quick reactionary save to block a shot, I am not consciously doing so. Hours upon hours of consciously practicing these movements must be done in order for the unconscious systems in my brain to be allowed to take over in game-like situations. Meaning my unconscious brain uses the cues that a player will give while they are shooting in a game and then automatically relates those cues to ones that I saw when I was consciously practicing.

Through this internship, I have gained insight towards the multiple memory systems in the brain that allow me to play to my potential. Though, most of the time this requires unconsciously reacting to a fast shot and forcing the conscious part of my brain to step aside for a moment. By combining the countless hours of consciously practicing my craft and the power of the unconscious mind during games, I create a delicate balance that allows me to be a confident and strong player.

* ‚ÄčThe views, opinions, and/or findings contained in this presentation are those of the author and should not be interpreted as representing the official views, position, or policies, either expressed or implied, of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the United States Space Force. The intent of this academic seminar is to discuss publicly available science with thought leaders in the field.