By Rob Gronbeck
When ‘sport psychology’ becomes the topic of discussion, I feel that sports trainers, coaches, parents, referees, athletes, sport scientists, and medical practitioners lack a common language to share. I often get asked, “Can you talk to my son about his mindset?” And “Can you come to our training camp and do a talk on psychology?” Sport psychology is deeply ingrained as a talk based interaction between two or more people. However, as a psychological scientist and researcher, this is just not good enough in this age of sensors, technologies and scanners informing us of what our brains are doing. We’re now much better equipped to know what our minds are capable of, and whether they are improving or deteriorating.
I believe we need to bring the common language of sport science to the table. Repetitions, sets, volume, thresholds, training session duration, and performance power outputs can map onto applied sport psychology methods. NeuroTracker fits perfectly and allows us to do this seamlessly and provide a metric capable of quantifying these three things:
1) How demanding (or intense) a NeuroTracker training session is (or will be?)
2) How much capacity an athlete’s brain has to perceive and track multiple objects?
3) How much capacity does an athlete have to sustain cognitive processing over time?
Let me take you back to where it all began. On the 5th of February 2014, at 11:20am, when I completed my first NeuroTracker training session of the Core type. My visual tracking speed threshold was assessed to be 1.0 and the session took me 380 seconds to complete. The projector screen was 70 inches, 4:3 orientation.
I tracked four 4 NeuroTracker targets for 8 seconds. I was shown four balls to follow for 2.5 seconds prior to each trial (reps). Feedback showed my incorrect answers for 1 second after each trial. I tried to answer as quickly as possible for each of the 20 trials. This is what comprises a NeuroTracker session.
Here is an example of a NeuroTracker Core session with these settings (for those unfamiliar with what NeuroTracker is or what the task involves).
1.0 @ 2.5s, SEATED, 1s FEEDBACK, 2s AUTO ENTER
These two data points allow us to calculate the processing power my brain can produce per second.
In physics, power, commonly known in sports as ‘intensity,’ is calculated with the following formula:
Where W equals work, and t stands for time.
Therefore, my brain’s power was calculated to be 1/380 = 0.00263/sec.
Over the past 3 years and 11 months, I’ve completed another 626 sessions and coached 5000+ sessions for hundreds of athletes, students, professionals, and those suffering with brain injuries or impairments.
On my most recent NeuroTracker session my visual tracking speed threshold was scored at 3.26, and it took me 259 seconds to complete it.
Using the same work formula, my brain’s work capacity was 3.26/259 = 0.01258/sec.
This represents an increase in power or work capacity of 378%!
The most processing power I’ve been able to produce is 0.01508/sec = 3.730 / 247 seconds, which represents a 474% increase in processing power from my very first NeuroTracker session!
My gains in visual tracking speed were obtained through lots of repetitions and hard work followed by recovery, growth, more training, etc. This is neuroplasticity in action. Yet, you may be wondering how I managed to complete each session in a shorter time - as I was always tracking four balls for eight seconds, twenty times per session, right?
Let me illustrate for you:
3.26 @ 0.1s, 0.25s FEEDBACK, 0.0s AUTO ENTER
My most recent session used the following settings:
I tracked four (4) NeuroTracker targets for 8 seconds. I was shown the four target balls for 0.1 seconds prior to each trial. After each trial the feedback which showed incorrect and correct answers remained on the screen for 0.25 seconds. Just like my first session, I tried to answer as quickly as possible for every one of the 20 reps. I finished the session 121 seconds faster by reducing “rest periods” between each repetition to level I could manage.
As you can see this made the task much more demanding as I only had 0.1s to see the four targets. When I made a mistake, which was 18% of the time, I only had 0.25s to see where I went wrong, and 0.1s to locate the four target balls for the next trial. I was still tracking for 8 seconds, 20 times, so the actual tracking time remained the same.
There is also one other major difference between my first session in February 2014 and this most recent session in January 2018. NeuroTracker was made significantly harder as I had to perceive the beam of light on the screen, coordinate my body to dodge the beam, three times in 8 seconds, while also tracking the four targets!
AGILITY @ 0.37
On that first Agility session, I scored a mere 0.37 and it took me 420 seconds. My cognitive output while dodging beams dropped to 0.0008809/sec. Adding a second task to the NeuroTracker session reduced my cognitive processing capacity by 88%.
We can compare the processing power output of my first Agility session 0.0008809/sec with my most recent 0.01508/sec, where we find a whopping 1611% increase in cognitive processing power!
Also, keep in mind that prior to completing my first Agility session on the 19th of June 2014 at 1:25 pm I had completed one hundred NeuroTracker sessions. My cognitive processing power was up to 0.00765/sec and I had only recently scored a P.B. of 3.04 which took 397 seconds.
OVERLOAD @ 2.87
My journey with NeuroTracker goes on as I continue in my quest to be able to track visual objects at faster speeds, with less time between reps. This is also over more and more back to back sessions, and while performing increasingly difficult tasks at the same time.
It is my belief that coaches, trainers, and athletes need to know that we can apply the same training principles we use in physical and skill acquisition to training the brain. That is why I went into such detail to show how this is measured and accomplished. We need a training methodology, programming principles, and ways to measure and track the cognitive processing power our athletes are capable of.
Let’s treat the brain like it is - an organ, and train it like one (minus the psycho-babble). Assess it, make sure it has ample energy and rest, and seek to fatigue it through appropriate training. Neurons will adapt, becoming more energy efficient and fire faster and in greater synchrony, for longer, even while physically fatigued. When we do this, we can begin to have discussions about capacity, endurance, efficiency, power output, and can train these capacities in tangible ways. Reliable. Predictable. Measurable.
If you want to learn more you can click on this link to hear me go into detail with a case study discussion where I put this all into practice.
Case study: How I quadrupled my visual processing speed
Rob Gronbeck is a Performance Psychology Coach, Researcher & Author who runs The Brain Room in Australia. Rob is a veteran NeuroTracker coach who has garnered endless praise from athletes raising their game with training.
Rob works with athletes at the intersection of coaching, neuroscience and technology to improve sports performance. Rob was the first trainer in Australia to adopt NeuroTracker and coaches clients such as Basketball Australia, Australian Kendo, Northern Pride, FNQ Heat, Cairns Hockey, Cairns Volleyball. He has received an academic medal from James Cook University and presented his research at national and state psychology conferences.
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