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Can Playing Video Games Before or During a Meet Help Swimmer Performance?

As a parent, you go to a swim meet and see swimmers doing all kinds of things, many involving phones; either listening to music or playing video games. The kids have to spend their time doing something right? But does playing video games help, hurt, or make any difference in swimming performance?

 

While there’s not a lot of data out there to prove that video games actually enhance swimming performance, there is strong evidence to support the theory that playing certain games can improve performance across other sports. Logically, if video games help other athletes, they could help swimmers.

 

In a New York Times article, professional athletes from a range of sports said that video games improve their physical and mental skills, in part because the quality of the sports games has become incredibly accurate.

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a professional soccer player said that he would “often spot solutions in the video games that I then parlayed into real life” as a young player. Mats Hummels, the Bayern Munich and Germany defender, has suggested that “maybe some people use what they learn in FIFA Soccer (a video game) when they find themselves on a pitch.”Conor Chin says he plays FIFA Soccer about an hour a day and claims they help him tune his mind to the sport. When hockey player Rob Schremp was injured, video games helped him stay sharp and focused. Joey Lagano, a NASCAR driver, uses iRacing.com, which has accurate simulations of tracks. Lagano uses these simulations to test out an unknown race location.

Athletes and Video Games: What Does Science Say?

While there is still a lot to learn, there are a few interesting studies that relate to video games and athletic performance. One study from a German university found that Wii Bowling, a game that uses motion sensors, can improve the performance of competitors. By using the game, which simulates the motion of rolling a bowling ball, the researchers found that people who train with the game had higher scores than those who did not. While previous studies have shown that video games can improve strategic thinking (such as soccer and hockey strategy), this study found that motion-based games can improve the physical performance as well.

 

Another study from the University of Toronto found that people who play action video games often learn new sensorimotor skills (aka physical motion) faster than people who don’t. For example, riding a bike, typing, or even learning a new swimming style requires a connection between the mind and the body. Apparently this connection is faster for people who play video games.

 

Action games are also linked to faster reactions and could even enhance attention skills, which seems to contradict pubic opinion.

 

Downsides to Video Games

Caveats to video use include becoming addicted to games to a point that it reduces necessary sleep before meets as well as getting in the way of being productive in other areas in your life such as schoolwork and relationships.

 

How Does All This Apply to Swimmers?

While it hasn’t been scientifically proven that video games are beneficial to athletes, the evidence is mounting. Perhaps this form of entertainment really can improve athletic performance. But what about swimming?  Swimming doesn’t have the complex team strategy of soccer or hockey, and the pools don’t really change like the racetracks of a NASCAR circuit. As a result swimming video games that have been introduced have had limited market success. So how can swimmers take advantage of video games?

 

You can start by choosing video games that are best suited to help swimmers get their swimmer brain started before or during a meet. For iPhones, you could choose games like Swim Meet: Finger Racing and Stick Man Swimming Light.

 

If it’s true that action games enhance coordination (as the Toronto study claims), then popular franchises like Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed would certainly be a good choices. While training for the 2016 Olympics, Michael Phelps said he played over 500 games of Call of Duty. Of course always consider the swimmer’s age and maturity level before allowing them to play action games.

 

To enhance concentration, there are numerous options that build your cognitive strength, including online chess and other strategy games.

 

One of the best swimming video games developed to date may be Xbox 360™game Michael Phelps: Push The Limit. However that game was introduced back in 2011 and most video gamers have “moved-on”.  In that game, players have to move their arms matching the stroke to move through the water. The motion is obviously much different than real swimming, as it’s hard to simulate the resistance of water, but at least you’ll be moving your body and thinking about swimming! Perhaps a new generation of games could incorporate instruction and gaming.

 

While you can’t find any games today that will provide for an experience that can be used to improve your stroke or turns, using video games to improve mental focus, hand-eye coordination, and strategic thinking is certainly possible. And that could in fact improve your swimming!

 

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