THE ATHLETIC BRAIN
The brain of an expert athlete is different. Whether it’s picking up a curveball out of the pitcher’s hand or spotting an open man out of the corner of their eye, athletes have to be experts at taking in visual information, processing that information into manageable “chunks”, and then making rapid and precise high-speed decisions. Below are just a few of the cognitive skills that high-level sport performance demands:
HIGH-SPEED DECISION MAKING
Athletes on the field don’t have time to think deliberately. They have to react and make precise, high-speed decisions based on pattern recognition and a keen instinct honed by practice. Pass or shoot? Swing or take the pitch? Athletes decide before they even know they are thinking about it - because conscious thought is too slow.
Right now, athletes build these skills through practice time and game experience. However, we believe there are ways to isolate and train high-speed decision skills through athletic brain training. Axon is working on training tools that will speed up this learning process and accelerate the acquisition of athletic expertise. Using Axon programs, athletes can get added ‘mental reps’ without taxing the body or risking injury.
REACTION AND ANTICIPATION
The best athletes don’t necessarily have better eyes than their competition. Athletes who seem a step ahead are actually experts at picking up visual cues that help them anticipate and react to the game. They don’t see any more, or any better, they simply do more with the information that they receive.
In baseball, expert hitters can guess the pitch type without even seeing the ball leave the pitcher’s hand, and can read the pitch location after just a few feet of flight. Players in open-field sports like football or soccer have to recognize and react spontaneously to events at the periphery of their visual field.
Whether it is a quarterback in the pocket, a point guard running a pick and roll, a soccer midfielder making a run or a hockey player anticipating a rebound, they have to see, process and understand not only what’s going on now, but what’s going to happen next. This is spatial reasoning - the ability to understand scenes in three-dimensions and predict how movement will change that dynamic. High-speed spatial reasoning is essential to every sport. Like other cognitive skills, spatial reasoning must be developed, and Axon Potential is developing sports-specific training programs for exactly these skills.
FOCUS AND EMOTIONAL REGULATION
The importance of focus and emotional regulation in athletic performance can’t be underestimated. Performing in the clutch is all about tuning out the pressure, nerves, noise and distractions of the moment. But the ability to perform under pressure isn’t something an athlete is born with. It’s a skill, one that can be learned and trained.
Focus, or a state of relaxed concentration, can be seen with brain imaging techniques. Clutch free throw shooters and golfers actually have ‘quiet brains’; they really are calmer. Having a quiet brain allows highly trained skills to be executed automatically in situations where conscious thought would get in the way. At Axon Sports we are developing products that, through Neuro-feedback, will help athletes attain an optimal brain state as they practice to perform.
VISUALIZATION AND IMAGINATION
Mental rehearsal and visualization has consistently been found to enhance performance in competitive situations, and have always been a cornerstone of the pre-competition preparation of elite. HOWEVER, recent research indicates that the brain’s power to imagine and visualize actually develops the neurological pathways associated with that skill, and practicing the work of visualization can enhance the development of the imagined skill.