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Losing at Mindball

Losing at Mindballby Susan K. Olson

My daughter and I walked through a museum exhibit on sports, where larger-than-life photographs of athletes of every kind covered the walls. There was a crash-test center where delighted children walloped various sports helmets to measure their strength. A ski simulator tested their budding slalom skills.

A computer program measured which sport would best suit each personality. You could push, pull, squeeze, pitch and measure it all. Each exhibit drew a small gathering, but the largest crowd pooled around the one table where people appeared to be doing absolutely nothing. Here was a game where one uses nothing but brain waves to win a race.

It seemed to be the Mindball game created in 2003 by Swedish inventors. The object of this two-person game is to move a ball using your brain waves. Competitors each put on a headband that houses electrodes, face each other and try to get the ball to move across a long, narrow table toward a goal on the opposite player’s side. Computer screens on the adjacent wall map each player’s brain activity, specifically their alpha and theta waves. These waves, the instructional sign indicated, are generated when the mind is the most relaxed. So, yes, there is such a thing as competitive relaxation.


First I watched two teenagers face off. One quickly, easily eclipsed the other. That teen then faced off against his mother and won handily. “Moms never relax,” someone quipped. Two squirrelly little girls (one of them mine) took a turn. The computer screens showed sharp spikes and valleys as they giggled and whispered. Neither could get the ball moving. Once coached to pretend to fall asleep, they both succeeded. My daugh- ter won the round and asked to face off with me.

Susan K. Olson is assistant dean of students at Yale Divinity School and an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA. Her previous calls have included chaplaincies at Wilson Wesley, and Connecticut Colleges, as well as Yale University. She lives in Connecticut with her 9-year-old daughter.

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