As a golfer, I’m familiar with the importance of intuition in the pursuit of hitting a great shot. During the pre-shot routine, I often tap into my intuitive knowledge as I visualize the ball flight in the air, imagining the trajectory and desired target for the ball to land. When choosing clubs, I often go with my gut feeling. It’s an informed decision, certainly, influenced by past performances and self-awareness of my capability, as well as present and variable situational elements like wind direction. But, it’s also highly instinctual. Ask any golfer, amateur or professional, and they’re likely to agree the role of intuition indeed plays a big part in the game.
Through experience, your gut becomes more accurate. With repetition, for example, a golfer’s putting stroke becomes more deeply embedded into their sub-conscious.
Following the Summer Olympics this August, including golf’s return to the Games, I found myself thinking about the role of intuition in elite sports, especially in its stark contrast with my perception that the finest athletes in the world, Olympians, have become exhaustingly scientific, calculated, robotic even in the precision with which they execute their athletic routines.
It begs the question: Will sport be considered an art or a science in the future? And relatedly, can we, should we, or will we appreciate sport for both?
Shattering Athletic Records
Two years ago, an investigative sports science reporter David Epstein delivered a riveting TED Talk exploring the question of whether athletes are really getting faster, better, and stronger.
The presentation is full of comparative analysis around benchmark human achievements in athletics, such as the world record in the 100-meter dash, the mile run, the 100-meter freestyle swim, and the Olympic marathon. He also makes careful note of the Olympic motto – ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ – which translates to ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger,’ and how athletes have fulfilled this motto rapidly. But Epstein’s conclusion may surprise you.
Epstein attributes the incredible athletic gains not to a bigger and better species, but to three primary changes over time: changing technology, changing genes, and a changing mindset.
“Innovation in sports, whether that’s new track surfaces or new swimming techniques, the democratization of sport, the spread to new bodies and to new populations around the world, and imagination in sport, an understanding of what the human body is truly capable of, have conspired to make athletes stronger, faster, bolder, and better than ever,” he says.
Smart Devices, Smarter Bodies
We’ve vaulted into the era of ‘Quantified Self’ where amateur and professional athletes alike have access to innovative and reliable performance data using measures ranging from blood testing to wearable technology. In light of this, I can’t help but wonder if the 2036 Olympic Games will be more of a sporting event or a science fair.
Perhaps the question is more prophetic than that. The line is already blurring, and not just on the Olympic stage. Go up the street to your local YMCA and you’re certain to find a litany of technical and wearable devices giving athletes of all ages and sizes a new performance edge.
As someone who loves sport – the spirit, the humanity, and the unpredictability – I’m curious to witness what the Games will look like decades from now, and what we will see on the other side of the screen. Enabled by data and technology, armed with the assuredness of our growing capability, and powered by our natural instincts and intuition, there might be no limits to how much further the human body can go.