Mar 19, 2015
Learning a New Body

Since graduating from high school in 2013, University of North Carolina sophomore center Kennedy Meeks has lost nearly 50 pounds, including shedding 20 prior to the start of this season. Despite having a more svelte and athletic physique, some say the 6-9, 270-pound Meeks isn’t yet completely comfortable playing with reduced mass. Not an altogether uncommon problem, a couple of experts weighed in on the matter, saying Meeks’ hesitations may be both mental and physical.

Though Meeks can jump higher and is quicker around the basket, that hasn’t lead to increased production on the offensive end yet. The reason for that, says Duke University Sports Psychologist Greg Dale, is that the weight Meeks dropped may have been accompanied by some confidence.

“As an athlete, confidence comes from having success at something,” Dale told the Herald Sun. “Athletes who’ve lost weight need to have confidence in their new bodies in ways similar to athletes returning from injuries. Success breeds confidence…Sometimes, guys aren’t as confident, because you can’t play the way you did before. Maybe you have to be a little more athletic now and do things differently, and [Meeks] hasn’t figured out how to do that. When you’re not confident, you tend to be more passive.”

Meanwhile, Greg McElveen, Director of the Duke Sports Performance Program, feels athletes who drop significant weight may have to spend time training their muscles and nervous system how to handle their new physique.

“Every muscle contraction is not just a muscular phenomenon, it’s a neuromuscular phenomenon,” said McElveen. “Muscles cannot work any faster than the rate at which they get neural stimuli. When a muscle or group of muscles is accustomed to a peak rate of contraction, even if the mass that those muscles are accelerating gets lighter, that does not mean that the muscles will work faster, that is, until the nerves are taught to work faster.”

What, then, is his suggestion for a player like Meeks?

“The player would need to do drills that teach the nerves to fire more rapidly. Then that combination of a lighter mass and more rapid neural firing will accomplish the power for speed of play or explosiveness.”

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