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How can training your brain help with physical performance?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We all know that our brains and bodies are linked.

But how do our cognitive abilities and our psychological health affect our physical abilities? How, for example, does training our brains help to improve response times, visual accuracy, memory and more? Sports performance requires a wealth of cognitive functions, such as attention, decision-making and working memory, to be functional at optimal levels in stressful and demanding environments – such as a sporting environment.1

Brain training, also known as cognitive training, involves a series of targeted mental exercises to help improve your brain function. Cognitive performance exercises are often practiced by professional athletes as part of their training plan – by first focusing on their brain function, they are then in a stronger position to focus on their physical abilities.  

Why is brain training relevant for sports professionals?

Studies have shown that brain exercises can help boost our psychological health and enhance certain cognitive skills such as memory attention and problem solving.2

Sports require more than physical skill and ability. To be a good sports person, you also need to tap into a number of cognitive functions. By increasing your cognitive abilities of perception and decision making for example, sports professionals will be in a better position to predict their opponents movements, which will help them determine their own accuracy and speed when competing against them.

Cognitive skills fall into a number of main areas. Each of these are important if you want to excel at the sport you are competing in:

Attention

  • Sustained: It’s important to be able to sustain long-term attention and focus
  • Selective: You need to be able to mentally block out any external distractions
  • Flexible: Being able to transfer your focus from one thing to another

Memory

  • Long-term: Retaining knowledge for future performances
  • Working: Tapping into what you know to work in your favour

Visual Processing

  • Visualisation: Creating mental images and scenarios in your mind
  • Visual span: Taking in peripheral information at a glance
  • Discrimination: Distinguishing between small differences that will affect your performance

Sensory integration and thinking

  • Timing/rhythm: Split-second timing and moving to the best rhythm
  • Planning: Short-term and long-term planning
  • Decision speed: Being able to make decisions quickly

How exactly do you train your brain?

It is of course difficult to replicate certain sporting scenarios without physically being in them, but there are still ways to train your brain for when you do meet these scenarios. Here are some ideas to help get your brain in the best mental condition:

  • Visualise the win. If you tell yourself that you are here to do a job and to win or complete the challenge or workout, you will find that the win comes easier.
  • Practice mindfulness. By practising mindfulness in your daily life, you will find that when you are in your sporting situation, you will find it easier to see what is meaningful and what is abstraction.
  • Plan your success. Think about how exactly you are going to win. Visualise it. Before taking part in your sport, play through the scenario in your mind.
  • Focus on positivity. There will always be positive and negative influences around us. If there is a lot of negativity around you, focus on the positivity inside you. Focus on what makes you happy and what motivates you.

In order to be the best you can be, you need to focus on more than your physical sporting abilities. When it comes to training, training your brain is just as important as training your body. It’s often said that the mind gives up before the body does, so by making your mind as strong as it can be, you are giving yourself the best possible chance of success.

  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01121/full []
  2. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1385/JMN:20:3:213 []