Typically, we choose our words wisely when drafting an email to a supervisor, we analyze metaphors in an English class, and we expect to find similes in the pages of a novel. UNLV doctoral student Harjiv Singh he brings language arts to the volleyball court.
“My research is primarily in how we can optimize the learning and performance of motor skills. Specifically, I’m interested in attentional focus and expertise,” says Singh, a doctoral student in UNLV’s Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition Sciences. He will present his research at the Oct. 21 Graduate Showcase, which highlights the research being done by some of the best and brightest graduate students from across campus.
Singh pays special attention to how people respond to the wording of physical instructions. “Just a change of a couple words, even just one, can make a pretty significant positive difference no matter if you’re an expert athlete or someone learning a task for the first time," he says. For example, Singh can encourage more accurate passing without mentioning the subject’s wrist, hand, or arms; instead, he tells an athlete to focus on their platform or uses an example of an image.
Singh’s research extends far beyond the volleyball court and can impact anyone — from professional athletes to children — in learning or relearning a motor skill.
According to Singh, “Attention and intrinsic motivation are intertwined and have a really strong relationship that needs to be considered when teaching a novice a new motor skill or fixing a flaw in technique in an expert.”
Singh’s interest in motor learning stems from his own experience with rehabilitating his ACL, which he tore in 2014.
Singh recalls, “It really got me into how language and language comprehension plays a role in the learning, relearning,and performance of motor skills.”
Singh completed a Master of Arts in Motor Learning at Columbia University, where he studied with Dr. Richard Magill, whom he still credits as “a mentor from afar.”
While attending Columbia, Singh first encountered the seminal research of UNLV Distinguished Professor Dr. Gabriele Wulf. Before arriving at UNLV, Singh had a three-year-long email correspondence with Wulf in which they discussed the literature in their field. Wulf’s openness and expertise made pursuing a Ph.D. at UNLV a “no-brainer” when it came time for Singh to choose a doctoral program.
“My experience at UNLV has been nothing but fantastic,” says Singh. “The diversity here is unbelievable, everyone is inclusive, my advisor and department push us to be the very best, and, most importantly, the opportunities provided here from the Grad College are unique and exciting for our individual development as grad students.”
Aside from his duties as a student, Singh has worked with the women’s volleyball team, served on the Graduate & Professional Student Association Council, and currently teaches the course Motor Development Across the Lifespan. Singh plans to find postdoctoral work to continue his research and to ultimately work either as a sports scientist or in an academic setting.