There are a lot of qualities that make athletes good.
Some of them are strength, speed, explosiveness, quickness, decision making, and critical thinking.
Focusing on the first 4 of those terms, they are all really important. Good athletes must be strong, powerful, quick, and fast. Athletes that lack those qualities are always going to be behind the curve compared to their competition.
All of those qualities do make a difference, but they are not the only thing that is important.
Reactive ability can be lumped in with decision making and critical thinking. An athlete that can see the game in front of them and then make the proper decision has a high level of reactive ability.
These are skills that are necessary for high level performance. Athletes can be as fast and as explosive as humanly possible. Those skills all go to waste if those athletes cannot figure out how to beat a defender, make a play on the ball, or change their strategy in the blink of an eye.
I heard Nick Winkelman describe a quadrant system for potentially determining the success of an athlete. There were 4 categories that an athlete could fall into.
A. Low physical qualities, low reactive ability
This is someone who is neither fast nor makes plays on the field. This is an athlete that you do not typically want to model after.
B. High physical qualities, low reactive ability
This is also a scary category. Athlete in this quadrant are often called “workout warriors.” They have great speed and quickness and it shows off on testing and measurements. Somehow those great numbers never translate to success on the field.
To use a football example, think about the receivers that run really fast 40 yard dashes. A lot of them never make it in the NFL. There only hope is to outrun the defense and catch a perfect pass. Meanwhile, the guy that isn’t as fast but can read the cornerback to always get open for a pass is much more valuable.
C. Low physical qualities, high reactive ability
Now we have something to work on. This is an athlete that always seems to put it together on the field. They have the “intangibles.”
This is an athlete that can be molded. Speed, strength, and quickness can all be taught but being able to react and make the right decision is more difficult.
You will want the opportunity to take on this player.
To stick with football, there is a reason that Tom Brady had terrible combine numbers but is one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
D. High physcial qualities and reactive ability
This is your perfect athlete. They are quick to react to the game in front of them and they are phenomenal athletes.
Look for this player because they are the most desirable.
I hope that sheds some light on why reactive ability is so important for athletes. It can literally determine how successful an athlete can be.
One big thing that can negatively affect reactive ability is poor conditioning.
According to “The Science of Running” by Steve Magness, the amount of oxygen in the brain can affect performance. Too little oxygen will narrow our vision, creative tunnel vision. This will then make it harder to react in sport because we will not be seeing the whole picture.
To get enough oxygen to the brain, we must be well conditioned. A good aerobic system will supply enough oxygen to the entire body and not just the muscles.
Athletes that are not in good shape are going to struggle at the end of a game or long shift. Their decision making and ability to make changes on the fly are going to be severely compromised.
When we watch sports on TV, commentators often mention someone getting stronger as the game goes on. Well that athlete is probably in great shape and maintaining his level of performance. When others stop making smart plays, the highly trained players can take advantage of that.
Where do you or your athlete fit into this? Do they seem to lose it at the end of the games? It could be all due to their conditioning.