We have all heard of sports psychology, mindfulness training, and even brain games as a growing fad amongst professional sporting teams, but neuroscience, what is that? What is the distinction and relationship between neuroscience and sport? What are neuroscientists looking for, and what have they found?
Neuro Athletics is a full-service sports neurology company focusing on making elite athletes 1% better by optimizing their brains. After conducting over 1500 brain scans on elite-level athletes, it has become clear that the three areas to focus on to become better at sport are as follows;
1. Information processing speed
2. Visual system
3. Focus and attention
For an athlete to get marginally better at all three of the above components, we need to deploy several different assessment tools, training tools, and programming tools.
All of these tools involve scientifically-backed neuro-technology ("neurotech") to not only scan the brain and look for areas of dysfunction but also to train the brain in these three specific areas.
By training what your eyes see to how your brain processes how your body reacts, FITLIGHT is the type of neurotech that can measure and improve reaction time, increase mental accuracy and enhance sensory processing. The system focuses on improving human performance and is the ideal tool to elevate any training.
Processing speed (PS) is individual cognitive ability measured by how fast individuals execute cognitive tasks, particularly elementary cognitive tasks (e.g., Salthouse, 1996). Working memory (WM) is a limited capacity storage system involved in maintaining and manipulating information over short periods (Baddeley, 2003).
Working memory is a component of executive functioning that temporarily holds, manipulates, processes, and stores information. It is required for more thoughtful/creative actions (taking directions from a coach while still having to make a play in a hectic environment) compared to more reflexive actions (reacting to a basketball hitting the rim). Research has shown participants with higher working memory capacity were better at maintaining attention and avoiding distraction, which are essential cognitive abilities in sports.
Reacting to more complex stimuli, such as using colors using FITLIGHT, can be a more effective way to train working memory than simply reacting to directional arrows (which can still help improve the processing speed underlying WM). Training the working memory using FITLIGHT® on athletes in the NBA space has shown improvements in their ability to retain information from the coach and activate the short-term memory circuit needed in all sports.
The visual system becomes teasingly exciting to assess and train, especially for players in the ball sports field. Paradoxically, brains are pretty slow; neurons and their synapses work millions of times more slowly than modern computers. It's fascinating to know that when it comes to the visual system, both vision and touch are similar and boil down to the brain locating inputs that land on a sheet of sensory cells- the skin or Reina- and both involve a great variety of different sensors.
Visual acuity is one metric within the visual system that is wildly trained and assessed. Visual acuity is the essential building block of an athlete's vision. You have probably heard these terms; 20/20, 20/30, 2010, etc. They describe how well a person sees, known as visual acuity. Elite athletes have better visual acuity, especially in visually demanding sports, and those with better visual acuity are usually the ones who excel in sports. But how can we focus on this and train it using neurotech?
One prime example of this was a segment used on an elite tennis player where he was instructed to complete three rounds of a visually demanding task using FITLIGHT®. There were six lights set up, with all six lights flashing different colors at a time frame of .5 seconds with a 1-second delay (this means that the athlete must hit/ react to the light within .5 seconds and after which he gets a 1-second rest). The key was only responding to the purple and blue light with his right and left hands. This may seem relatively easy initially; however, adding more pressure to this exercise, for example, having an athlete stare at a dot on the wall while completing the activities, will increase the demand placed upon the athlete's visual system.
The variety of stimuli and effectiveness of the training protocols within the training system allows an athlete and a coach to have a never-ending combination of colors and timeframes that can be altered and changed throughout any training program. One key feature of the system is a newly designed app and dashboard that gives immediate data to analyze and track performance. Various markers are recorded; not only does it show how long it took you to respond, but it may also show how accurate your physical response was
Lastly, focus and attention require much more neural energy than ever before. Think about this as brain energy that must be conserved during a game and utilized at its optimum when needed. The prefrontal cortex is the neural real estate right behind your forehead. It's discussed many aspects of neuroscience; you hear about it for decision making, executive function for planning, etc. This is the area of the brain that gets the most work done during our day-to-day tasks, and if we don't learn to train it, feed it and monitor it correctly, we won't know how to use it correctly during a game.
How can we train this vital piece of real estate? The most effective way of doing this is broken down into categories of demanding tasks such as those introduced by our male tennis player we mentioned earlier. In block one of the training program, one of his protocols was to use FITLIGHT as a complex configuration exercise. His set looked like this:
1. Set 4 lights up, all different colors
2. Timing set to 2.5 seconds on with a 2-second delay
3. When the light flashes yellow, he must deactivate it with his left hand
When the light flashes purple, he must deactivate it with his right foot
When the other lights flash, he must hit the tennis ball into the wall.
These task-orientated activities place enormous demand on the athlete, creating a "neural pressure" that helps build and strengthen the neuronal pathways responsible for making sound decisions and maintaining attention and focus.
The right tech can significantly impact an athlete's ability to perform and improve over time. The brain needs detailed programming to build better strength and endurance; this is precisely what we achieve with FITLIGHT. Technology allows athletes to replicate different situations they might face during competition, becoming more informed about their training goals and taking a data-driven approach when training.
The most effective form of training involves recording response times to a visual stimulant or recording reaction times to an auditory stimulus, and that's exactly what we achieve with the integrated app.
As coaches, we can now capture an athlete's data, store it in a folder, and access it when they enter training again.
The ability to track an athlete's movements in real-time has changed how coaches and athletic trainers observe technique instead of relying strictly on visual cues.
In 2021, we knew that hard data is necessary, and the world of neuro-technology is precious for keeping athletes safe and improving output during competition. It's no wonder that athletes, coaches, gym owners, and athletic trainers are all starting to use this type of technology because we all know that those who are not using this type of technology are going to be left behind.
See the full presentation here.