The New York Times’ recent article “Keep Your Eye on the Balls to Become a Better Athlete” is a great review to create awareness of innovations in performance training. For the last seven years, our company has successfully worked on validating neuroscience innovations in many industries and it all starts with information. It’s clear, however, that the arena of human performance innovation attracts both skeptics and supporters; a dissonance that is explored in depth in the article.
At one end of the spectrum, there are early adopters and an interest in the potential. At the other end, there is limited knowledge and doubt concerning its overall effectiveness. Such skepticism could perhaps be the result of “brain training” companies making claims that are not sufficiently supported by scientific evidence.
In contrast to these companies, we have always strived to validate the relevance of NeuroTracker training and expand the strength of our supporting science. As a result, we readily welcomed a critical dialogue with Zach Schonbrun, the New York Times journalist.
Forward thinkers, particularly in sports, appear to be the most open-minded when it comes to understanding the benefits of new technologies. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of inertia and even resistance to innovation.
New ideas are not easy to implement without changing existing attitudes. In an early 1970s hockey series, the Russian national hockey team surprised Canadians with multiple wins. The Russians trained in the gym, while the Canadians only trained on the ice. The Canadians mocked the Russians with comments such as, “you don’t play hockey in sneakers.”
As much as strength and conditioning was novel in those days, so is cognitive enhancement today! With increased speeds of the game today, elite sports teams need a new form of training to gain a competitive edge. One that is able to enhance their awareness and decision-making abilities in high-pressure games.
With today’s heightened level of competition, an elite competitor has to learn to respond to rapidly dynamic, changing scenes. Unpredictability plays a crucial role in sports. NeuroTracker trains fundamental cognitive systems which improve the ability to deal with chaos and unpredictability. It does so by increasing one’s processing speed when reading a play and anticipating how it will evolve.
We appreciate the traditional notion that structured, expertise training is fundamental to learning the essentials of a sport. One of NeuroTracker’s key augmentations, tactical awareness, was initially developed while working with the Atlanta Falcons. It synthesizes NeuroTracking with visual cue recognition and decision-making tests of tactical play scenes and video sequences. A key advantage is that we place the athlete under controlled cognitive stress during decision-making, which is paramount when performing under pressure.
Last but not least, the New York Times article brought up the 64-million-dollar question of transferability. Unequivocally, the cognitive training industry still has a long way to go to directly correlate to on field performance. Proving transfer to real world performance is a surprisingly difficult thing to achieve due to the many concurrent influences on human performance.
For example, although there is general acceptance of the importance of strength and conditioning, there is still negligible science to show that this training actually changes the outcomes of competitive performance.
To establish a convincing case, a large body of high quality research needs to be conducted over several years. It’s in this sense that NeuroTracker is uniquely positioned to spearhead the challenge.
In the summer of 2011, we held a NeuroTracker Summit in Boston with sports scientists, doctors and performance directors of leading NFL, NHL, and EPL teams. We shared insights from ongoing research and encouraged the teams to participate in upcoming studies. This led to a seminal study in 2013 that was featured on Nature Research Journal’s homepage. It became an approach that paved the way to scientific collaborations around the globe and inspired us to setup a non-profit Applied Research Centre.
Currently, we are supporting over 40 major research projects validating real life applications. Previously published NeuroTracker studies have drawn lots of independent researchers to NeuroTracker, but there is much more to come and it will continue to be a fascinating new movement in neuroscience.
While our technology may still be ahead of the curve, times are adapting quickly. We are confident that NeuroTracker’s approach will become a new standard in performance training in the very near future.
Jean Castonguay is the President and CEO of NeuroTracker from CogniSens Inc., founded in 2009 with Dr. Jocelyn Faubert. CogniSens Inc. is a privately-owned neuroscience company that specializes in measuring, identifying and improving cognitive function. In addition, it is also developing and commercializing technologies acquired from the Visual Psychophysics and Perception Laboratory of Université de Montréal, directed by Dr. Faubert.
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