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reflexion_admin / September 22, 2023

The Power of Not Doing In Sports: A Guide to Reacting and Proacting


Within the vast realm of sports, we often applaud the athletes for their speed, strength, and coordination. However, one overlooked but critical skill that separates good athletes from the elite is their ability to inhibit certain actions. This ability is twofold: Reactive Inhibition and Proactive Inhibition. In the fast-paced world of sports, the mastery of these inhibitory skills can make the difference between winning and losing. Let’s delve into the importance, nuances, and mastery of these vital skills.

Decoding Reactive and Proactive Inhibition

In the heat of a match, split-second decisions matter. An athlete must constantly decide whether to continue with a planned move or hold back. This is where the duality of reactive and proactive inhibition comes into play.

  • Reactive Inhibition: It’s the athlete’s capability to abruptly stop an ongoing motor action when new information suggests it’s no longer beneficial. Imagine a soccer player about to take a shot, but at the last moment, they see a teammate in a better position and hold back.

  • Proactive Inhibition: This is the ability to prevent starting an action altogether based on the anticipation of future outcomes. In tennis, this would be a player deciding not to rush the net because they anticipate a lob from their opponent.

Both skills are the result of a lifetime of training, experience, and trained cognitive ability to process information quickly and effectively.

The Significance of Inhibition in Sports

Why is inhibition so vital? Let’s decode its significance:

  • Game Strategy and Dynamics: In team sports, the dynamics change rapidly. Players must be attuned to teammates’ positions, the opponent’s strategy, and potential game-changers. A player’s ability to reactively or proactively inhibit actions can significantly influence the match outcome.

  • Energy Conservation: Unnecessary movements or actions can waste precious energy. By mastering inhibition, athletes can optimize their energy usage, ensuring they’re at peak performance throughout the game.

  • Minimizing Errors: Sports are often games of margins. A wrong move can lead to an opponent’s advantage. Through proactive inhibition, players can minimize the risk of errors.

  • Enhancing Teamwork: Especially in team sports, an individual’s action can impact the entire squad. By understanding when to act and when to inhibit, athletes can seamlessly integrate into team strategies.

Training the Mind for Mastery

It’s incredibly important to highlight that like many other cognitive skills, reactive and proactive inhibition can be trained with careful effort. So, how does one improve these inhibitory skills? Let’s explore:

  • High-Intensity Training: Simulate real-game scenarios during training. The more athletes practice in conditions mirroring actual matches, the better they get at making split-second inhibition decisions.

  • Cognitive Drills: In the world of sports, while physical prowess often takes center stage, it’s the nuanced interplay of mental agility and bodily skills that often defines the true champions. Enter cognitive drills—targeted exercises designed specifically to challenge the brain, enhancing its ability to adapt, anticipate, and react. Let’s dive deeper into the importance and mechanics of these drills:

    Switching Play Tactics Abruptly: One of the foundational principles of cognitive drills lies in their unpredictability. Imagine a soccer team practicing a certain formation and suddenly, without prior warning, they’re instructed to switch to a completely different setup. Or a basketball player preparing for a specific play, only to have it changed at the last moment. These abrupt changes force the athlete’s brain to quickly recalibrate and adapt, simulating the ever-changing dynamics of a real game. Over time, this trains the athlete’s reactive inhibition, allowing them to swiftly halt an initiated action and pivot as the situation demands.

    Utilizing Visual Cues: Another effective method involves using visual cues to dictate or modify an athlete’s actions. For instance, consider a tennis drill where the coach uses balls of different colors, with each shade indicating a specific type of shot. Players must constantly be alert and ready to adjust their technique based on the color of the incoming ball. This not only sharpens their reaction times but also strengthens their ability to inhibit pre-planned actions in favor of new directives based on the visual cues presented.

    The beauty of cognitive drills is that they directly tap into an athlete’s neural pathways, reshaping and refining them for optimal performance. While the physical act of playing remains paramount, it’s these moments of mental challenge and adaptation that often determine success in the split-second decisions of competitive sports. By integrating cognitive drills into training routines, athletes equip themselves with a mental edge, ensuring they’re as agile in their thought processes as they are in their physical maneuvers.

  • Game Analysis: Regularly analyze past games, focusing on decisions made in crucial moments. Recognizing past errors can reinforce proactive inhibition for future matches.

  • Mindfulness and Meditation: Enhancing focus through meditation can refine an athlete’s ability to anticipate and respond, honing both reactive and proactive inhibition.

Stories of Inhibition in Action

The world of sports offers compelling examples of how exceptional inhibition can lead to unparalleled success. Let’s dive into the stories of three superstars whose mastery in this domain has made them legends in their respective sports.

  • The Swift Decider: Lionel Messi
    Story: Lionel Messi, renowned for his dribbling skills, is not just about agility and speed. His decision-making, especially when to charge forward or hold back, makes him stand out.

    Inhibition’s Role: Messi frequently uses reactive inhibition to alter his dribbling path based on defenders’ positions. His proactive inhibition is evident when he decides not to take a direct free-kick, anticipating the wall jump.


  • The Calculated Racer: Lewis Hamilton
    Story: In the world of Formula 1, where every millisecond counts, Lewis Hamilton’s decisions on when to overtake or hold position have won him numerous races.

    Inhibition’s Role: Hamilton’s proactive inhibition is evident when he chooses not to overtake in tight corners, predicting potential collisions. Meanwhile, his reactive inhibition shines when he quickly pulls out of an overtaking maneuver seeing a sudden change in another driver’s trajectory.


  • The Tennis Maven: Serena Williams
    Story: Serena’s game is more than just forceful serves and groundstrokes. It’s also about deciding when to unleash a crafty drop shot or when to patiently build from the baseline.

    Inhibition’s Role: Serena’s proactive inhibition shines when she holds back from charging the net, predicting a speedy passing shot from her opponent. On the other hand, her reactive inhibition is evident when she tweaks her shot at the last second, based on her rival’s sudden move or position change.


In sports, the narrative often revolves around the action – the goals, the overtakes, the slam dunks. Yet, it’s the unseen decisions, the inhibited actions, that often play an equally critical role in the tale of victory or defeat.

Inhibition in sports isn’t just about physical prowess but is deeply intertwined with cognitive agility. Athletes, trainers, and enthusiasts, therefore, should not just focus on refining what to do but also master the art of deciding what not to do. Dive deep into training both aspects, and witness how the dance between action and inhibition elevates the game to new pinnacles.