Cognitive Training in Sports
What is Cognitive Training?
Cognitive training, also often referred to as ‘brain’ training, can be described as a program of targeted exercises designed to help maintain or improve brain function. Often such training programs are used by health professionals including occupational therapists, physiotherapists and even psychologists as a part of the treatment plan designed to help improve brain function after an injury or medical event such as heart attack or stroke. Research has shown that carefully designed, systematic brain exercises can have a strong impact on improving certain cognitive skills including memory, attention and problem-solving.
Role of Cognition in Sports
Sports performance and training at the most elite levels not only require physical skill, but also demand a multitude of cognitive functions to be operating together at their highest levels. It is well known that what mentally separates elite athletes from the rest, are their enhanced perceptive and decision-making abilities, which are skills that were likely perfected over time through repetitive key exercises. Expert athletes use their perceptive cognitive abilities to predict their opponent’s movements, which then serves to drive the accuracy and speed of their own actions and reactions. Until recently, there has been limited research focusing on how cognitive abilities can be strengthened to potentially improve an athlete’s performance on the field.
Benefits of Athletic Cognitive Training
The premise of cognitive training is based on the idea that if certain cognitive abilities are critical to the success of a task, then practicing and enhancing those abilities should ultimately yield better results. This concept has slowly gained the interest of players and coaches in the domain of athletic training.
A handful of studies have already demonstrated the benefits that cognitive training can have on athletes and their performance in the game. For example, a study published in 2016 utilized a training program known as 3-dimensional multiple object tracking (3D-MOT) a task which requires users to keep track of multiple moving objects within a changing visual field.
When performance in university-level soccer players was assessed, results showed that decision-making accuracy in passing was greater for the players who underwent 3D-MOT training compared to the players who did not1
Currently, there are various programs bringing 3D-MOT based cognitive training into the real world of sports. Two of these programs that are readily available for purchase and use by the public include Neurotracker and Cognilit.
One program that has gained popularity with elite athletes is NeuroTracker2, a scientifically based cognitive training tool used to measure and improve cognitive performance. It uses 3D multiple object tracking at increasing difficulties to test and train cognitive functions critical to sports performance. In each training session, participants view multiple moving targets in a virtual, 3-D space and undergo a series of assessments that require them to remember key targets, track their movement and then identify them.
Virtual training programs are a key tool for allowing athletes of various sports to train as if they were in the real game. One such program is Cognilit3, a fully immersive cognitive training program designed to enhance cognitive and visual skills. It was developed using 3D-MOT research which has been shown to improve attention, processing speed, complex movement perception and working memory. These cognitive attributes improve reaction time and decision-making accuracy in athletes helping them achieve peak performance.
1. Romeas, T., Guldner, A., Fauberta, J. 3D-Multiple Object Tracking training task improves passing decision-making accuracy in soccer players. Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 2016.