Athletes, whether professional or amateur, face unique physical and mental challenges. Peak athletic performance requires dedication, focus, resilience, and regular training. While things like weight-lifting and cardio conditioning can improve a person’s physical performance, it’s also vital to use training tools that optimize cognitive and emotional performance, as well. In addition to the training and lifestyle that goes along with playing sports, the game itself demands a lot from athletes. Those who play contact sports, for example, are much more likely to experience a concussion or other bodily injury at some point in their careers. The pressure to perform and to win can also contribute to stress, anxiety, sleep issues, and relational problems. By addressing an athlete as a whole person and taking into account all their responsibilities within and outside of their sport, we can not only improve their athletic performance, but their overall functioning.
Once I started doing (the Neurofeedback technology) for a few months, it changed my life, the way I act and the way that I think, and it’s helped my game so much.
– Chris Kama, Former NBA player
related brain activity
Brain Regions Related to Peak Athletic Performance:
There are certain skills and qualities that contribute to athletes being successful and mastering their craft. Some of those skills include:
- Focused attention
- Quick reactions
- Good memory
- Emotional regulation
The brain controls the processes necessary for the execution of these skills. The limbic system and reward circuits are largely responsible for learning, managing emotions, motivation, and to some degree, feelings of self-efficacy. Executive skills like attention, concentration, and decision-making are determined by how well the frontal lobes are functioning and communicating with other brain regions. The cerebellum controls balance and coordination. Through decades of brain imaging, we have a better idea of how the brain needs to behave in order to perform at its peak and facilitate all these complex processes. We can now translate that knowledge into training programs that can enhance optimal cortical activity, which means optimal athletic performance as well.
Traditionally, interventions like neurofeedback have been used to address clinical disorders and symptoms. However, training can also be utilized to enhance and maximize the brain and the body’s abilities. Neurofeedback addresses the long-term, high levels of stress experienced by many athletes and individuals aiming to perform at optimal levels. Neurofeedback supports recovery, enhances sleep, and helps peak performers access their “flow state” more effectively. This helps minimize distractions, increase hand-eye coordination and processing speed, and improve focus. The benefits from neurofeedback assist in better execution of decision making, improves physical recovery, and supports enhanced relaxation. Neurotherapy can also help athletes recover from concussions and other injuries.
Here at NeuroGrove, we utilize advanced forms of 3D functional neuroimaging to see exactly where and how each client’s brain might be impaired and thus be able to get directly to the root of the issue. We then use this information to develop targeted, individualized programs for each client to aid neurophysiological recovery and optimize cognitive function in the most efficient, effective manner possible. This may involve advanced brain-computer interface technology (e.g., swLORETA neurofeedback), transcranial neurostimulation, biofeedback, somatic therapies, personalized nutrition, supplementation to reduce inflammation and aid neurogenesis, wellness coaching, and/or integrative psychotherapy.
What the athletes say
Some professional athletes have already started utilizing these interventions and have demonstrated impressive results!
- Tom Brady, an NFL quarterback renowned for his athletic talent, started using neurofeedback to further hone his skills. In an interview, he was quoted as saying, “‘I’m at the point where I want to be the best in every possible way. I came across the exercises in “Popular Science”, and I can already see the difference in my brain function. This kind of brain training is like physical conditioning. It can help anyone.’
- Kirk Cousins, another NFL quarterback, has been using neurofeedback to improve his game for many years now. Of his treatment experience, he said, “I have a big enough sample size over seven years to say it has helped. I think it is worth it for the long haul. And I’m doing it not just to be a good football player, but I think the best, healthiest version of myself also off the football field, too.”
- Lucas Giolito, a professional MLB pitcher, has shared that he feels like neurofeedback has not only helped him as an athlete, but has improved his health overall: I meditate on occasion, but for me the biggest thing was neurofeedback in the offseason,” Giolito said in Cleveland at the All-Star Game. “Basically, it was a brain-training program where they hook you up and read your brain waves and you do focus exercises, guided visualization. It’s all about kind of committing things to your subconscious and creating a good baseline.”
- Chris Kaman, a former NBA player, shared that doing neurofeedback especially helped him perform in stressful, “crunch moments.” He also said, “Once I started doing (the Neurofeedback technology) for a few months, it changed my life, the way I act and the way that I think, and it’s helped my game so much.”
- Other athletes and athletic organizations that have utilized this training include:
- Kerri Walsh-Jennings (Olympic Gold Medalist in beach volleyball)
- 2009 Canadian Olympic Ski Team (went on to win the most gold medals of any country at the 2010 olympics)
- University of Notre Dame football team
- AC Milan football club
- Real Madrid football club
What the research says
Before the 2010 Winter Olympics, the Canadian National Short Track Speedskating team completed a three year training program designed to improve the athletes’ stress management and emotional regulation skills. They utilized biofeedback to teach the athletes how to have more control over their autonomic responses and respond calmly and rationally when faced with high-pressure situations. Overall, the Canadian team was successful in team and individual events at the Olympic Games.
- Beauchamp, M., Harvey, R., & Beauchamp, P. ((2012). An integrated biofeedback and psychological skills training program for Canada’s Olympic Short-Track Speedskating Team. Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, 6, 67-84
A similar study working with athletes preparing for the 2010 Olympics was released in 2011 by Dupee & Werthner. They sought to optimize athletes stress management, self-regulation, and self-awareness before competing. Fifteen elite athletes were chosen to participate. They each completed EEG and psychophysiological stress assessments, along with regular neurofeedback sessions. After the study, participants self-reported improved stress management skills and that this resulted in better overall performance in training and competition.
- Dupee, M., & Werthner, P. (2011). Managing sress response: The use of biofeedback and neurofeedback with Olympic athletes. Biofeedback, 39, 92-94