Where Brain and Brawn Count: Athletic “brain” Training Boosts On-field Performance

by Tanya Thomas on Nov 21 2008 9:27 AM

Sports is not all brawn, there’s also the brain: say researchers who now, have developed a new training regimen to boost a sportsman brain’s reaction time and improve their overall athletic performance by 53 percent.

Two researchers from the School of Optometry of the Universite de Montreal have developed a method to help athletes in developing speed and efficiency in decision-making.

In their study, Professor Jocelyn Faubert and postdoctoral student David Tinjust, put a dozen soccer, tennis and hockey players through multiple object-tracking exercises.

And they found that the cognitive exercises boosted the athletes' capacity to absorb a lot of information simultaneously and manage it efficiently, by almost 53 percent on average.

In one of such exercises, subjects in the automatic virtual environment cave were asked to follow the increasingly rapid movements of a series of balls and identify those that quickly changed color.

The results were recorded after each training session lasting about an hour and athletes could note their progress.

"It's like physical training, but for the brain," said Faubert.

The new approach is already popular among athletes, from star goalie Kim St-Pierre to North American boxing champion Anthonin Decarie.

"In their normal workouts, athletes regularly evaluate their physical performance, but until now there has been no tool that could rate their cognitive performance. If an athlete feels both physically and mentally ready, that can only have a positive influence on his or her performance," said Faubert.

Originally, the tool was used to see how elderly people or those with vision problems would behave in a virtual environment. For example, how could subjects work their way through a crowd, traffic or get on an escalator?

Later, the researchers decided to adapt the process to top athletes and transfer the scientific knowledge to virtual training tools.

And just wearing a virtual helmet would allow athletes to train anywhere they want.

In fact, they could also wear cybernetic gloves and glasses and, while viewing superimposed images, they could practise complex movements with a fictitious opponent.

Every movement of the hand, foot and head would be recorded with sensors.