02. Experts Corner

Getting Into the Mental Game of Sports Performance

June 11, 2020

As a goaltender playing a high level of hockey, I believe cognitive training should be considered just as important as physical training. Out of the techniques available to train mental performance, I found I could use NeuroTracker to improve my focus, concentration, processing speed, decision making, puck tracking & overall on-ice performance.  Sports are a game of inches and anything that gives you an extra inch you need when you need it is worth is weight in gold. I've found NeuroTracker enables you to take your mental game to that next level. In this blog I'll cover my actual experiences with this particular neurotechnology, and what I think it brings to the table for aspiring athletes wanting to get into the mental game of sports performance.

Getting Into Cognitive Training

As a high-performance athlete, I see the game of hockey is 90% mental. I have been using NeuroTracker for the past 5 years, after starting training with the tool as as a freshman in college. To access the technology I went to train with a Sport Vision trainer 3 times a week in Grand Forks, ND.

I found I was able to clearly track my improvement over time, and I just kept getting better and better. Being a goaltender, I saw my NeuroTracking translate into my performance on the ice. My visual processing felt quicker, and I noticed improvements in my game in only a few weeks.

My vision trainer would also tell me I needed to not get so tense and just relax. NeuroTracker taught me how to control my “hype-level” and forced me to find the optimal state that puts me “in the zone”. I now know that in order to play my best, my hype level needs to be a “7 out of 10”.

I transferred to the University of Wisconsin after two years, and so going directly to a Sports Vision trainer was no longer going to be possible. Luckily I was able to purchase a personal account I can run my own computers, so I now take NeuroTracker with me where ever I go!

Getting Into the Benefits

Mental readiness can make the difference between a goal against and a save. In the summer (off-season) I would use NeuroTracker as soon as I woke up, before my workout and skate. It always warmed-up my entire mental systems, and prepared my visual processes for performing at a high level throughout the day.

I also like to use it at night, when I have just had a long day, even though my eyes are tired. I feel it is very important to train your vision to perform even when fatigued. I would then compare my morning score with my evening score - the morning score was almost always higher!

During the season I used NeuroTracker pre-game for every single game I started - over 110 games! It gets my vision switched on for competition and dials in my mental focus. At first my teammates always wondered why I was walking around the locker room or my apartment with these 3D glasses on, but once they saw what I was doing and how its helped me, they were very intrigued.

By doing a session of NeuroTracker I can tell if I am ready to go or not quite dialed in, based off my trial score. If I don’t score higher than my current baseline, I will complete another session.

I have added in stick-handling while doing NeuroTracking to my post-season training routine. It's very challenging, but I think this is a next level training technique that can help me raise my game further. Adding in stick-handling, forces me to keep my head up and improve my fine motor-skills under pressure.

Cognitively the training adds another dimension, this is because I am multi-tasking and forced to hone my focus even more in order to get the targets correct. I think that this helps me also make better decisions with the puck on the ice, especially when I have players coming at me and pressuring me. I like the fact that NeuroTracker has research showing it can train my brain to predict human movement and make better decisions on the field in midst of dynamically changing play.

The chaos of play during ice hockey

Getting Into Better Goaltending

As a goaltender I find some specific benefits with NeuroTracker. The first is that tracking multiple moving objects on NeuroTracker helps to simulate tracking the puck on the ice, as it battles through lots of traffic and bodies on the ice. This forces you to keep your mind in the present and block out any ongoing distractions and negative thoughts.

I actually listen loud music while I’m on NeuroTracker, I do this to simulate various distractions in a game, such as the crowd or opposing players. I also work on my breathing during sessions, the more tense you get the harder it is to track the moving targets. The same goes for a hockey game, the more tense you are – the less saves you will make.

Finally I practice my breathing during NeuroTracker and work on a deep breath in for 3 seconds and a deep breath out for 3 seconds. It's important to breathe out in stressful situations, and when I do this, I score much higher on my trials. In this way NeuroTracker scores give me important feedback on my internal mental state.

Kristen Campbell (35) tracks an incoming puck in a game at Labahn Arena in January 2020.

Overall, the biggest benefit for me is the improvement in my focus and concentration when making difficult saves. I find I have a 'laser- like' focus on the puck now. I am able to stay calm among the chaos of deafening crowds, bodies blocking my vision, particularly in what many people would call high pressure situations, like breakaways, overtime & shootouts.

Getting Into Peak Sports Performance

All athletes can benefit from using NeuroTracker. I think right now a lot of people aren’t aware of the benefits cognitive training can provide. It's interesting to look at the top athletes in sports, because they all now have some sort of specific cognitive training program that they follow. The best do what the rest aren’t prepared to do. Cognitive training helps you become part of the best.

I see Sports Vision Training and NeuroTracker becoming a large part of sport in the future. Many gyms and training centers already incorporate it into their facilities. My ice hockey training facility is planning to add a NeuroTracker component into all goalie's training sessions.

The idea is to run a NeuroTracker session before the skate to get the athlete in the zoned from the get-go, so they achieve the most out of each training session. And then also to run a session after training, to check for improvement or decline based off how their training session went.

I believe cognitive training and assessment is going to become equally important as physical training one day, and many people will invest just as much time mentally as they do physically because they recognize this need for reaching ones’ full potential.

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