02. Experts Corner

Perceptual-Cognitive Training in Sports - Does Performance Have to Reinvent Itself?

March 3, 2022

While modern training methodologies are evolving rapidly, whether in the energetic, physical, strategic or tactical dimensions, executive functions are now appearing as an essential element of performance.

The number of training sessions is increasing. The demands are becoming more and more complex. They are also becoming more and more demanding, and the frequency of competitions contributes to considerably limit the time devoted to recovery.

Under these conditions, the athlete is subjected to unprecedented levels of stress. Depression, overtraining, injury and counter-performance occur at the highest level and with such frequency that the sport authorities have been alerted to the need to investigate and impose policies to protect the physical and mental integrity of our athletes.

We have reached physiological limits in the areas related to strength, power or speed. The technical gesture is repeated so often that it is also perfectly integrated. In spite of this, the majority of athletes, who are highly trained, do not perform any better, while others, "exceptions", who are not as strong or as fast, seem to thwart all predictions and question the specialists. Their ability to get out of complex situations in a favorable emotional context, their level of adaptability as well as their incredible capacity to almost systematically find solutions at high speed and even in situations of stress or intense fatigue, raises questions.

What Do They Have More Than the Others?

The specificity of the genome perhaps? It is not a question here of thinking that to be a high level athlete one must be "well born". All top athletes are part of this very selective environment. So why do some of them stand out from the crowd?

Daphnée Bavelier, (Professor in cognitive sciences) explained, talking about E-sport players: "When FPS players have to search for a target, they get tired less quickly than normal and are less distracted by other events linked to their environment. They act faster and are also able to refocus their attention more quickly in search of a new target".

What Should We Understand?

To answer this question I like to refer to this example from Philippe RODIER's upcoming book when he wants us to understand the relationship between intuition and performance:

Dan Carter explained in April 2016, (4 World Cup appearances (2003, 2007, 2011, 2015) "Instinct is the most important and it's also the hardest to let exist. Sometimes I hear something, an announcement from a teammate or an order from an opponent, but my eyes tell me something else, so I follow my intuition. Then he adds: "Things move so fast on the field that I don't even know what I'm going to do in the next few seconds.''

This may be the answer. Exceptional players perceive their environment better than others. Throughout my career as a coach of high-level athletes, I had made the observation that the physical dimension had reached its limits. I watched videos of matches and my analysis of the game showed that those who stood out were not always the biggest, the strongest or the most powerful, but they knew how to play in all complex situations and against all odds. They knew how to read their environment better than the others.

I therefore naturally imagined that if we were allowed to develop this perceptive-cognitive quality in all players, and not only in those whose vocation is to lead the game, perhaps we could change the course of things, the training methods, the workloads as well as the vision of the game and of performance.

In the light of epidemiological studies of trauma statistics recorded in high-level sport, it appeared that the injury most often occurred under fatigue, in the third quarter of the game or in winter when conditions are more delicate or at the end of the championship. It did not take much to convince me that the perceptive dimension, and of course the cognitive dimension, played a very important role in this context. Indeed, when it is no longer possible to make the right decision, the athlete makes the wrong choice, he locks himself into inappropriate movement constraints and generates more and more fatigue, doubts and ends up making his task conscious. The counter-performance and the injury, in this context, are no longer linked to a question of time. It is inescapable.

The NeuroTracker: The Solution!

Jocelyn Faubert contacted me more than 10 years ago to propose his new training system for peripheral and central vision. The NeuroTracker.

Professor Faubert - the scientific inventor of NeuroTracker

I was immediately excited at the idea of being offered a solution and a tool that would finally allow me to explore this environment and approach performance from a new angle.

I needed to train peripheral vision, to unconsciously process and make decisions and to propose this training method to all my athletes.

I have developed this method with several high level athletes in preparation for national and international competitions or in preparation for the Olympic Games in Beijing, London or Rio with results that I could not yet imagine.

The particularity of the high level athlete lies in the fact that he "goes where others do not go and continues where others stop". This is my vision of things.

They are therefore linked to mnemonic processes that make them special. Making decisions at high speed and under stress, like anything else, can be learned. Let's not forget that any decision, whether motor, visual or cognitive, depends on only one actor: the brain. It is the brain that decides. And to make decisions, it is supplied almost exclusively by vision. It is therefore to him that we must address ourselves and through the vision that we must enter.

The particularity of this method lies in its concept. It is aimed at mink but not only. Cellular adaptation is dependent on the intensity, variability and repetition of the load. In other words, developing a muscular or nervous capacity depends on the ability to propose an individual and adjusted solicitation in the intensity, to be able to create an environment that the brain will then perceive as a standard, and to be able to evaluate and increment the load in real time. (provided that the reiteration is also adjusted and sufficient).

The NeuroTracker system proposes to train the oculomotor muscles at maximum speeds (linked to the function) and correlated to the athlete's capacities at the time. In addition to this muscular and nervous training, it has the particularity of mobilizing the stereoscopy on which all athletes depend in the context of their practice.

Another advantage of the proposed principle lies in its action time: 8 seconds. This is the Time Limit during which the nervous system can mobilize its peak speed. Repeated over 20 sequences and several sessions, more than this peak, it is also its support time that is trained. 15 to 30' of work repeated over several sessions and in a progressive situation of double or triple task, thus makes it possible to build an environment specific to the processing of information and its training. The brain understands here that this quality becomes essential and that it will henceforth take on more importance.

Beyond these aspects, the work on NeuroTracker allows to increase the working memory. Since it is a question of addressing the nervous system, its high speed solicitation allows the information to access the sequential memory much earlier. The cognitive or motor response is then faster and more adjusted.

The athlete perceives the information more quickly. He has the impression that he has more time to make his decision (This is the case), he understands his environment more quickly. Finally, he develops his qualities of concentration and vigilance, attentional focus and divided attention, which are essential to sports performance.

This process has therefore become an indisputable asset in the training and performance of the athlete. It has also become a means of predicting performance.

The French Football Federation has understood this. All its employees awarded it the first prize for innovation during the innovation days at its training center in Clairefontaine. The technical direction of refereeing (DTA) had already made it a tool for training and performance in the context of the training of referees of league 1. Other French clubs such as Olympique Lyonnais and

Olympique de Marseille have integrated it into their training and are using it for performance, training and rehabilitation. High speed decision making is one of the qualities required to exist in high level sport. It is therefore essential to develop this capacity as early as possible in an individual high level project.

Hélène DEFRANCE, world sailing champion and bronze medalist at the Rio Olympic Games, followed this perceptive-cognitive training throughout her preparation. We had established together the need to keep a level of concentration as high as possible throughout the competition and to be able to read the movements of the water, the sail, or the trajectory of the opponents in a context of permanent stress. (The heart rates of the 470 team members are close to their theoretical maximums during most of the competition). ) The NeuroTracker was therefore the ideal tool and the results obtained were just what we expected. Here is a video of Hélène de France during her consolidation phase on NeuroTracker.

Another example of training, but this time in high level tennis with Tan Harmony (French international player).

Tennis is also a sport in which decision making, anticipation and intuition are essential assets for performance. Balls can reach speeds of up to 200 km/h and the duration of matches requires athletes to maintain a high level of attention and focus for several hours. In this example the dual-task reproduces specific gestures of competition.

In addition to developing perceptual abilities, this training method has also become a way to evaluate the ability to process information on both the backhand and the forehand. For example, when this decision making is less efficient on the backhand than on the forehand, the positioning on the court in a game situation cannot be optimized. The athlete compensates and thus loses a considerable amount of time to capture and process information. The motor action is then delayed in its execution and it becomes more complex to position oneself correctly on the next shot.

Here is an example of a triple-task associating the technical gestures with the visual and motor processing of other perceptive information.

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