Cognitive Training in Athletics

“To win the race is to rise each time we fall.” Unknown

“It is now accepted that expert performance in sport is dependent on perceptual and cognitive skills as well as on physical and motor capabilities,” according to Dr. Mark Williams, an expert in sports science at the Research Institute for Sports and Exercises Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University.

The following table presents examples of cognitive skills and how they apply to sports.

Cognitive Skill AreaCognitive SkillApplication to Athletics
Attention Sustained AttentionVirtually all sports require sustained attention and focus.  Consider the baseball oufielder tracking a fly ball, the gymnast performing a routine, the football player executing a play and staying focused on the player he is trying to tackle, or the track athlete waiting for the sound of the starter’s gun.
AttentionSelective AttentionBeing able to screen out irrelevant stimuli and to focus on the important aspects of a situation is vital in sports — for example, in hearing a teammate’s instructions but ignoring the sounds of the fans or in focusing exclusively on the basket despite the waving and attempts by fans of the opposing team to distract a player from making a basketball free-throw.
AttentionFlexible AttentionThe ability to shift quickly and smoothly from one activity to another is essential in many sports.  An example is moving between offensive and defensive modes in basketball, soccer or hockey.
MemoryLong-Term MemoryThis is the type of memory we are most familiar with.  It involves the ability to acquire knowledge, such as the playbook in football, soccer, basketball and other team sports.
MemoryWorking MemoryWorking memory refers to the ability to hold multiple pieces of information in one’s mind while manipulating them.  Adjusting one’s golf swing to account for conditions (wind, lie, etc.) or evaluating novel or unforeseen circumstances when a play goes wrong in football or basketball are examples.
Visual ProcessingVisualizationThe ability to create a mental map of the state of game play is a key area of expertise for players in virtually any team sport.  Being able to sense (see in one’s mind) where players are, where they are moving and where opportunities exist often sets great athletes (football quarterbacks, tennis players, playmakers in basketball) above their peers.
Visual ProcessingVisual SpanBeing able to take more information in at a glance and the effective use of peripheral vision, particularly in combination with visual discrimination, can enhance visual search techniques (spotting the ball or another player on the field/court.)
Visual ProcessingVisual DiscriminationDistinguishing small differences — from the angle of opponents’ racket to subtle shifts in the position of a lineman — can enable an athlete to anticipate and prepare for an opponent’s action.
Sensory IntegrationTiming and RhythmThe ability to perform rhythmically and in split-second timing is inhere in sports like crew, any sport performed to music, and even a golf swing.
Thinking SkillsPlanningSports involve planning at multiple levels — from the longer term plan to get ready physically and mentally for game day to the “seat of one’s pants” planning of how to get the ball down court or players in position for a volley ball attack.
Thinking SkillsDecision SpeedSplit-second decisions are a hallmark of athletics and the abillty to quickly make a decision, based on the most relevant information, is tested constantly in sports, every time an athlete responds to an opponent’s action.  Hesitation gives the opponent a chance to attack or regroup, whereas quicker decisions can provide a small but often important advantage.

BrainWare Safari and Cognitive Skills Training for Athletes

Just as an athlete trains for physical endurance, speed, flexibility and the specifics of his or her sport, athletes and coaches are realizing the benefits of cognitive training.  There is a growing consensus that cognitive skills, including those described above, can be trained and transferred to athletic performance as well as academic achievement.  BrainWare Safari develops 41 cognitive skills in a comprehensive and integrated way (like cross-training for the brain) to improve each individual’s capacity to learn, to perform and to win.

Cognitive Training in Athletics in Knowledge Center

Train your body and train your mind