The past few posts have discussed ideas around deliberate practice, neuroplasticity and how they might relate to sport-specific performance training. Here we’ll look at one specific place, the University of Montreal, and the programs that they are developing around cognitive training for sport.
Most of the research coming out of the University of Montreal in this area has been conducted by the Visual Perception and Psychophysics laboratory, which is run by professor Jocelyn Faubert. The lab focuses on research around the human perceptual system: the ability to track moving objects, how the brain simultaneously integrates information from our different senses, and how we perceive motion. And in the course of this research they have conducted some very interesting studies around athletes.
Via Medical News Today:
“Professor Jocelyn Faubert and postdoctoral student David Tinjust, put a dozen soccer, tennis and hockey players through multiple object-tracking exercises. The athletes’ capacity to absorb a lot of information simultaneously and manage it efficiently increased on average by 53 percent.
“In one of these exercises, subjects in the automatic virtual environment cave were asked to follow the increasingly rapid movements of a series of balls and identify those that quickly changed colour. After each training session, which lasted about an hour, results were recorded and athletes could note their progress. “It’s like physical training, but for the brain,” says Faubert.
“The approach has already gained great popularity among athletes, from star goalie Kim St-Pierre to North American boxing champion Anthonin Décarie.
“In their normal workouts, athletes regularly evaluate their physical performance, but until now there has been no tool that could rate their cognitive performance,” says Faubert. “If an athlete feels both physically and mentally ready, that can only have a positive influence on his or her performance.”
Video of the training, below:
This type of training, and the claims made about its ability to enhance sports performance, is interesting, but not uncontroversial. While it is easy to measure and demonstrate improvement that the athletes made on the specific task that they were training for, it is substantially more difficult to prove that those improvements are transferable. The $64,000 question is always: does it show up on the field?
There is a lot of debate on this subject. Other researchers in the field will argue that training must be much more sport-specific in order for the gains made in training to transfer. And in our next post, we will look at some other cognitive workouts that approach the problem from a more realistic, specific perspective.