Neurofeedback: A Tool to Enhance Sports Performance

During the last decade the use of Neurofeedback techniques to achieve a better athletic performance has been a booming subject. More and more athletes use mental training each day as a means of achieving the ultimate competitive edge. One of the most well-known examples is the Italian football team that won the 2004 World Cup final in Germany against France. As you can read in this article, to prepare the tournament some of the Italian footballers used neurofeedback techniques to train focus, concentration and ‘getting into the zone’.

Neurofeedback has also helped Australian football player Drew Petrie to sharpen his shooting as this video explains. The Wall Street Journal also reported how neurofeedback helped beach-volleyball star Kerri Walsh-Jennings and her teammate Misty May-Treanor to win the London 2012 Olympic gold medal as you can read here. These are some of the many examples of the current success of brain training to enhance sports performance.

Neurotherapy helps to train concentration and focus, crucial for sports that require accurate aiming such as archery, shooting or golf, especially during putting. Emotional control to reduce anxiety while dealing with pressure and stressful situations can also be achieved. Another area where neurofeedback may hold potential for improving athletic performance is in facilitating greater physical balance. Consider the benefits that improvements in balance might have for enhancing performance in gymnastics, skiing, ice-skating, hockey or skateboarding.

The benefits of neurofeedback has their roots in our capacity for the enhancement of brain function that is directly related with brain’s ability to act and react in ever-changing ways, what is known as neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity has been widely studied in the last decade, and it has been proven that changes occurring directly after brainwave training induce lasting effects. The human brain is incredibly adaptive and it’s possible to control the way it adapts by training it.

During concentration tasks an increase of alpha activity followed by a decrease of theta, beta and gamma particularly at central parietal areas can be observed in the EEG. Relaxation/concentration training paradigms may involve alpha-theta ratio training. During tasks that require focus attention the enhancement of beta and the inhibition Theta in central areas has also been acknowledged. Alpha event-relate desynchronization (ERD) in central areas has been proved to be related with successful golf putting. Inhibition of beta activity in the occipital area has also been proved to be related with successful physical balance. There are many studies available online and currently researchers are exploring new possible neurofeedback treatments that will enhance athletes’ performance. Some of the ones freely available are here: 1, 2, 3,4.

Some biofeedback systems use other physiological measurements than EEG such as skin conductance (also known as galvanic skin response) or heart rate variability. The combination of the information delivered from various physiological sources can improve the capabilities of current neurofeedback solutions. I believe that in the following years we will witness the establishment of biofeedback as an ordinary tool for body and mental training in sports as well as in many other fields.

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