02. Experts Corner

The Secrets to Dominating in Your Sport Part 2 – Injuries

March 10, 2022

The reality many athletes know is that when you get injured, not only does everything stop, but your physical and mental performance abilities start to drop day by day. That’s why it’s crucial to maintain your cognitive abilities, in order to keep your competitive sharpness in terms of mental abilities. It’s also a way for you to return to training with more confidence. Let’s learn more about why keeping your mental edge is the key to successful recovery from sports injuries.

The Psychological Impacts of Sports Injuries

Injuries are often sudden, coming hand-in-hand with loss of motivation and focus, along with worries appearing on the scene, and in some cases even depression. In professional sports you are only as good as your last competition, and even the biggest sports celebrities become quickly forgotten. More significant though, also less well-know, is the impact on cognitive abilities.

The Cognitive Impacts of Sports Injuries

During rehabilitation your attention is often over focused towards your physical injury, consequently shifting your self-awareness away from changes in your mental capacities. However, you can be the fittest or most skillful athlete in the world, but in most sports, if your situational awareness and decision-making skills are poor, your performance will be the same.

When athletes recover physically from a serious injury, they may be physically back to game shape, but more often than not they aren’t mentally ready for peak competition performance. This is because injuries typically lower your cognitive abilities. The number one reason is that neuroplasticity rules the brain, which simply means ‘use it, or lose it’. Let’s dig into this concept a little more.

Impacts on the Brain

In biological terms, the human brain is a very expensive organ to run. Athletes typically need 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day, however professional chess players can burn up to 6,000 calories per day in competition, while just sitting. This is one reason our brains evolved to be very lean and efficient. Accordingly, when your grey matter suddenly lacks the stimulation it is used to from frequent training and competitions, it essentially starts to atrophy it’s neural networks.

This is similar to how you lose muscle mass when inactive. However, for the brain it happens more quickly, and this process can be further impacted by factors like stress and depression, that often come with serious injuries.

Lastly, the brain and body are closely interrelated, so sports injuries can actually directly impact the brain. For example, the latest sports science research shows that ACL injuries can also be considered brain injuries, because they damage areas involved with motor-control, which then further delays physiological recovery. On the flipside, brain injuries like concussions actually increase the risk of ACL injuries, and likewise, cognitive assessments can even predict the likelihood of an ACL injury occurring.

Losing Cognitive Game Shape is Normal

The big point here is that physical injuries can take their toll on brain performance in many different ways. Accordingly, losing your cognitive sharpness during an injury is simply a normal thing that happens.

Yet is also something that most athletes and coaches overlook, even though it is a critical factor when it comes to performance over a season. But what if I told you that you can keep training your mind to retain peak performance?

Maintaining Cognitive Game Shape

These days professional athletes at the highest levels strive to take care of all aspects of their performance, including the cognitive dimension. This helps them to maintain their level and be the best version of themselves the moment they are physically ready to return-to-play.

They key thing here, is that if you keep training visually, perceptually and cognitively, you’ll stay sharp. You may even be cognitively better prepared post-injury. One upside to this is that injuries will rarely ever prevent you from training between the ears. In fact, downtime during injury gives you a great opportunity to raise your mental game to the next level.

Mental Rehab Training at the International Center

At my training center in Madrid we specialize in maximizing the advantages of cognitive training on the road to recovery. In particular it can be useful to help guide the crucial timing of when an athlete is really ready to return to full training or competition.

This video is an example of a complex balance task with low physical risks, yet tests skills essential for performing well in martial arts.

With this approach we can use cognitive overload with NeuroTracker to detect motor-skill weaknesses not fully recovered. Then we can accurately and safely determine if more cognitive or physical rehab is needed before progressing to the next level.

This is really helpful, because in high level sports, the biggest mistake athletes and coaches make is coming back too soon and getting reinjured. Avoiding having to start rehab all over again is just worth its weight in gold.

Another advantage that we leverage is home training. One of the challenges for sports men and women suddenly out of action, is simply having nothing productive they can do at home, other than just rest. Here is an example of one of my athlete’s honing her mental focus under our home training program.

When athletes see their speed thresholds improving rapidly with this form of training, it brings a well needed motivational boost. This helps set up positive rather than negative expectations, and keeps their sights set on success after recovery. Additionally, they are one step ahead in their progress when we do our next in-center training session.

Boosting Confidence

When you start training again after traumatic injury experiences, you will inevitably feel some level of insecurity. Without noticing, you’ll be eager to get back and begin overloading your physical capacity to its limits, which brings additional psychological pressure. Loss of confidence is one of the most immediate ways your athletic ability can be lowered.

However, when you keep stimulating your brain to train and adapt it to different complex situations, you turn insecurity into feelings of mental certainty and confidence. The higher your level of attention, the more awareness and control you will have over your sports performance.

Imagine the difference between an athlete returning to competition feeling like they are not mentally ready to perform, compared to an athlete who knows they have trained their cognitive abilities to a level higher than ever before. I’ve seen this first-hand, and those two athletes will be worlds apart in their confidence to comeback.


Will inevitable sports injuries cause you to lose, maintain or actually increase your mental focus?  Believe it or not the choice is in your own hands - its simply a case of engaging in high-quality cognitive training. If there's one thing to remember here, it's that this makes a big difference in successful recovery from injuries.

At the International Center we strive to perfect the whole athlete during rehabilitation using the latest neurotechnologies and training methodologies. If you would like to learn more, checkout our website.

The International Center

You can also read the first blog in this 6-part series here.

The Secrets to Dominating in Your Sport Part 1 - Execution

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