Achieving peak performance in juggling: a guest blog by Dr. Edson Filho

dr. Edson Filho
Dr. Edson Filho

Today’s blog is a special treat; it’s a guest blog from Dr. Edson Filho, lecturer in sport and exercise psychology at the University of Central Lancashire (view his profile here). Edson’s research agenda centres on peak performance experiences and high-performing teams. Edson explains:

“Essentially, I am interested in understanding how individual performers get “in the zone” and how teammates reach what is colloquially known as “team chemistry”. To this effect, I have authored and co-authored a series of studies on juggling, which is a highly studied task given that it has good internal and external research validity; that is, juggling is a real-world task that can be examined under well-controlled conditions.”

Stress-Recovery balance and mindfulness key to peak performance in solo juggling

When studying peak performance in juggling, we have learned that the two big psychological challenges that prevent jugglers from “getting in the zone” are burnout and fear of failure. Jugglers are at a risk of burnout because they tend to engage in long hours of demanding and, oftentimes, solitary practice. Jugglers are afraid of failure during live shows because mistakes are visible: everybody can see when a juggler ‘drops a ball’. To prevent burnout and to be able to perform at peak level, jugglers must match their stress demands with physical, social and psychological recovery – what is known in the literature as “recovery-stress balance”. To get “in the zone”, jugglers also need to learn how to mindfully regulate their emotions, and ensure that their attention is in the present moment and their inner critic (judgemental thinking) is “turned off”.

Peak performance in dyadic team juggling associated with shared zones of optimal functioning

JugglerAlong with colleagues, I have also investigated team coordination and peak performance in juggling dyads. We wanted to understand how two jugglers manage to keep the balls (or any other prop) in the air by doing “the right thing, at the right time, and for the right reason”. We learned that, in order to perform optimally, two jugglers get their breathing rates and heart rates in sync, probably by learning how to co-regulate their activation levels and attentional states. Moreover, when we looked at the jugglers inter-brain interactions during cooperative juggling, we learned that, for the most part, the two jugglers activated similar areas of the brain.  That is, to perform optimally in team settings, jugglers need to leave their Individual Zone of Optimal Functioning and find their Shared Zones of Optimal Functioning, wherein they can sync their minds and bodies.

Want to know more? Take a look at these scientific papers!

Filho, E. (in press). Shared Zones of Optimal Functioning (SZOF): A framework to capture peak performance, momentum, psycho-bio-social synchrony and leader-follower dynamics in teams. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology. Available soon.

Filho, E., Aubertin, P., & Petiot, B. (2016). The making of expert performers at Cirque du Soleil and the National Circus School: A performance enhancement outlook. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 7, 68-79. See here.

Filho, E., Bertollo, M., Robazza, C., & Comani, S. (2015). The juggling paradigm: a novel social neuroscience approach to identify neuropsychophysiological markers of team mental models. Frontiers in Psychology, 1-6. Access full-text for free here.

Filho, E., Bertollo, M., Tamburro, G., Schinaia, L., Chatel-Goldman, J., Di Fronso, S., Robazza, C., & Comani, S. (2016). Hyperbrain features of team mental models within a juggling paradigm: a proof of concept.  PeerJ, 1-38. Access full-text for free here.

Filho, E., & Rettig, J. (2018). Team coordination in high-risk circus acrobatics. Interaction Studies, 19, 500-519. See here.

Stone, D., Tamburro, G., Filho, E., di Fronso, S., Robazza, C., Bertollo, M., & Comani, S. (2019). Hyperscanning of interactive juggling: expertise influence on source level functional connectivity. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 1-13. Access full-text for free here