Brain Fitness

July 6, 2011 at 11:43 pm Leave a comment

Sporting teams put endless resources into fitness, tactics, skills and diet in an attempt to get an edge on the opposition.  But one area that often doesn’t get the same attention is mental fitness.  Often it’s seen as a trait you either have or haven’t been born with.  Commentators refer to it as mental toughness, calmness under pressure or nerves of steel.  But how come we can train someone to kick better, run faster or become stronger but not be able to train someone to be more composed? We have all watched sport where what seem to be the best prepared athletes crumble on the big occasion.  This can manifest itself  in loss of concentration or loss of composure.  But how can athletes practice for these situations and learn to improve their mental response so they retain concentration or composure?

Traditionally the coach would tell you to relax or focus but if you are stressed or nervous it can be hard to just switch to relaxed mode.  However there is now another way and I’m lucky enough to have access to this technology.  The technique is called Neurofeedback and we use this technique in my wife’s practice Life and Balance Centre.  How it works is we hook the athlete or person up to advanced equipment called Neuroinfinti so we can measure their responses.  This includes their brainwaves, their skin conductance (how sweaty their hands are), the finger temperature and four other measures related to how the body responds to stress.

Once hooked up we can test how an athlete responds to a stressful situation and then see can they return to a calm state again.  The beauty of the technology is it makes the athlete aware of what is going on in their mind and body and then helps them control it.  So as an example you can show a player a clip of them missing a goal and see how this changes the readings on the computer screen.  The key is for the athlete to become aware of this and be able to switch back to a calm focused state as quickly as possible.

In the picture below I’m hooked up and the probes are recording my brainwaves.  So basically they are recording what I’m thinking!

I’m playing a game where there are three boats racing each other.  The objective is to keep the boat in the middle lane in the lead.  To do this I have to remain calm but focused.  If I start to get distracted by other things around me or start having multiple thoughts in my mind the boat in the bottom lane will catch up and beat me.  If I get too relaxed and lose focus the boat in the top lane will speed up and overtake me.

It all seems like fun but it is also important training as it is teaching people how to control their mental state.   With practice this will become second nature just like kicking a ball is second nature to a well trained footballer.  So with training the athlete can stay in what is often referred to as the ‘zone’, which is the optimum state for high performance.

Famous Australian rugby coach Matt Williams was in our practice recently to learn about this area.  He was really impressed and thinks it’s the next big thing in sport.  You can see the clip below.

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