Students Dig Into the Science of Elite Performance

Why do some people rise to the challenge while others crumble under stress? What does it take to be “clutch,” and how do we avoid succumbing to pressure? What can science tell us about performance in these difficult moments?

All these questions and more were answered during the WinterMission class The Science of Elite Performance.  

The offering combined neuroscience, biology and athletics/activities to study what goes into elite performance under varying degrees of stress and pressure. The course was taught by the trio of upper school engineering and robotics teacher Stone Yan, middle school math teacher/coach Neil Jaggernauth, and Aquatics Director and Physical Education Coordinator/coach Alexis Di Domenico.

"Elite performance is the result of small intentional actions compounded over time and magnified with teammates and colleagues," Yan said. 

The course highlighted different techniques — meditation, yoga and breathing exercises — to employ when confronted with stressful situations. It also covered the importance of sleep and deep rest. 

"I've learned various ways to reduce stress through mostly breathing exercises," said Noah Kassell-Yung ’23, a multi-sport varsity athlete. "I've also learned about self 1 (your conscious) and self 2 (your subconscious) and how to balance the two when learning a new skill in sports. Consciously think of ways to improve small aspects, and subconsciously allow your body to master the skill."

Students discussed readings from "The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance" by Timothy Gallwey. They also examined case studies featuring NBA all-star Stephen Curry, Chinese track star Su Bingtian, tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams, and the Army crew team. There were an array of physical activities in the Fonseca Center that challenged students both individually and collaboratively. 

"My favorite moments of the class so far have been engaging in activities where everyone needs to succeed in order for the group to succeed," Kassell-Yung said. "We did a tennis ball toss where everyone lined up in a circle and had to pass the ball to the person to the right while catching the ball from the person to the left. We had to keep on doing this until not one ball was dropped." 

As Yan explained, the ideas, lessons and techniques that students learned about over the past week will come in handy long after they graduate from Masters: "These concepts extend beyond sports and throughout life. Being a power for good starts with personal excellence and extends to influencing and inspiring those around us."