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The Hierarchy of Human Performance

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What’s a trainable skill, versus what are you born with?

If we treat human performance like a pyramid, the bottom level is inherited human physiology. This would be the foundation for any specific ability and varies from person to person.

At this bottom level, genetics plays the lead role – some people are born with larger bone structure and sharper eyes, and this can give them an advantage from an early age.

Intuitively, this makes sense. Naturally good eyes will give you an advantage as you rank up through leagues. A publication found major league MLB players to have slightly better visual acuity (20/12) than minor leaguers, and much better acuity than the general population (20/20).

As you climb the pyramid, you enter abilities that are trainable. That includes areas such as muscle mass, cardio endurance, and eye-hand coordination. They’re improved with weight training, cardio training, and neuro training, respectively. This mid-tier level is where Reflexion trains neuro skills.

Let’s Talk Real World

One step above that is sport or action specific tasks – hitting a baseball, shooting a basket, and serving a tennis ball are all examples. These are skills that have specific techniques and require practice.

For example, the best way to learn bowling is to… bowl. No surprises there.

It’s why many athletes can switch easily between sports. Shooting a basketball doesn’t make you good at volleyball, but they both require excellent eye-hand coordination. If you’re good enough at one, you can probably pick up the other relatively easily.

An Example in Baseball

So how do cognitions play into the real world?

Last December, we had Dr. Dan Laby on one of our podcast episodes. He’s a very well respected researcher in the sports vision space, and the author of the MLB visual acuity paper referenced above. Here’s what he had to say on vision training’s impact on the field.

“Having a faster reaction time doesn’t mean you’re going to swing at more pitches or swing the bat faster. What it seems to mean from the data is that it gives you the option to sit back a little bit more, to see more of the pitch…[and] to make a better decision. Is this [pitch] the ball you want to hit, or can you let it go?

And so we see people that have these faster reaction times actually allow more strikes, because they’re waiting for the right pitch. Now they don’t strike out, in fact they walk more…but if they have the count in their favor, and this pitch isn’t exactly where they want to hit it, they’ll take the strike.”

The Research Gap

Knowing where neuro training fits into this hierarchy is important for understanding how it will translate to the real world, and why there isn’t more research in this space yet.

Trying to analyze how neuro training improves on-field performance is like trying to determine how bench press translates to QB sacks for a lineman. Very few would argue bench press isn’t an important exercise, but scientifically proving and showing that sort of relationship is a challenging task.

The Takeaway

When looking at ways to improve human performance, sport-specific tasks represent only a portion of an athlete’s opportunity. Fundamental abilities related to strength, cardio, and neuro all offer ways to train.

And as the neuro training and assessment industry grows, more research will be needed to better validate its effectiveness and reliability, and we hope to be a leader in this field.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the research supporting neuro training now, including topics beyond just sports, take a look at this database we put together.

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The Science of Neuro Training, For Dummies | Newsletter Issue 2

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The brain communicates like a complex, interstate highway system. When the brain wants to make a decision or take action, signals travel through this network like messenger cars carrying instructions.

Just like travel in real life, the shorter and more efficient the brain’s highway system is between regions, the better and faster communication happens.

One of the most incredible facts about the brain is its ability to reshape this highway network, also known as neuroplasticity. That’s when the brain makes adaptive changes to itself (structural and functional) in response to intrinsic or external stimuli.

Beyond the technical definition, it’s something we experience every day and is basic enough in its application- if you order food at a restaurant and it’s bad, your brain knows not to go back!

In order to get a broader understanding of how neuroplasticity works in sports and training, it’s easiest to understand it in the context of injuries.

Neuro Rehab & Injury Recovery

Neuroplasticity was originally researched in relation to brain injuries, and is what’s allowed for the development of neuro rehabilitation.

When an injury to the brain occurs, like a stroke or concussion, picture a traffic jam in the highway system. With the existing path blocked due to the injury, the brain will naturally create a detour around the damaged area, allowing operations to continue. The tradeoff is that it uses a slower and less efficient route.

This automatic rewiring is an incredible adaptation of the brain, but even after the brain heals the damage to that highway network, the brain will not return to using the original, better communication path.

By now, the brain doesn’t care that it’s less efficient, it sticks to the working path that it reformed after the injury.

Using the right exercises and techniques, neuroplasticity can be used like Waze or Google Maps, creating the quickest and most efficient path to navigate that highway system. That’s how a medical professional can rehabilitate the brain to use faster routes, like it did prior to injury.

Practice Makes… Better

That’s how neuro rehab works, but even for a healthy individual, there’s no such thing as a perfect brain. Neuro training takes the same principles and offers the potential to optimize the communication networks within the brain.

A shorter and more efficient pathway means increasing the speed and efficiency in which you make decisions and take action. For an athlete, that can provide a competitive edge versus their peers.

There are different forms of neuro training (that we’ll cover in future newsletters), but all of them operate around this same principle of training and changing the brain pathways to respond faster and more efficiently.

The Takeaway

Whether the goal is to recover an injured patient to normal, or train an athlete to respond more efficiently, the basic principles of neuro training are the same. Optimizing communication between different parts of the brain will result in faster, more efficient decisions and actions.

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Launch of the Reflexion Newsletter

Reflexion has launched newsletter, where we advance the education behind neuro training and highlight trends in the world of sports vision.

Our mission is to make neuro training mainstream at all levels of athletics, not just with the pros or elites. A lofty task, but one that we believe is already well under way.

A Trend In Our Training Habits

Among sports scientists, it’s been well understood for decades that visual and cognitive training (shortened down to neuro training) can improve on-field performance.

But the technology available for this is either far too simple – like bouncing a colored tennis ball – or far too complex – like requiring specialized staff for one-on-one instruction. It’s time someone filled the void to offer neuro training capable of integrating into any workout.

It’s part of a trend that goes well beyond just sports. The brain is finally getting the attention it deserves in performance, whether it be through conversations like

Problems In A Developing Market

The issue with a developing market is it leaves questions among the populus as education lags behind. Questions like

  • How does neuro training work? What’s effective vs what’s a gimmick?
  • How can I integrate neuro training into other workouts?
  • What are the different kinds of neuro training?

 

It’s our goal to not only provide the best neuro training products available on the market, but simultaneously cultivate a higher level of understanding behind this industry. This newsletter will answer these questions, and many more.

The Takeaway

What started out as a niche development for pro athletes – vision and cognitive training – has grown in popularity over the last decade, and is starting to take shape as a more developed practice.

Now known as neuro training, this fits into an athlete’s workout in a similar way to strength, agility, or cardio training. It’s all part of a holistic approach aimed at maximizing performance.

But as interest in neuro training grows, so does the demand for information and research surrounding it.

Beyond offering powerful products to improve the implementation of that training, Reflexion’s mission is to increase the understanding of this industry as a whole. This newsletter is one small step in that direction.

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For Skeptics: How Does Reflexion Improve Reaction Time?

Bryan Jovick is a former strength and conditioning coach for five NCAA Division I universities, ending his coaching career at the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Jovick now leads Reflexion’s expansion into schools and universities, and we asked him to answer one of our most common question. 

I often get asked “how does this improve reaction time?”, “how does getting better at your light board drills make athletes a better basketball player?”, or “I believe reaction time is task-specific, so how would your system work to improve performance?”

Improving things like reaction time is about 1/10 of what we are trying to accomplish here. The other cognitive abilities we assess and track progress in are peripheral vision, eye tracking, depth perception in various contrasts, eye-hand coordination, memory & pattern recognition, and ultimately, prioritization & decision making under pressure. We have an assessment that takes 3 min and provides a report card of all abilities and gives an overall score. This is their “baseline”.

From there, the possibilities are endless as far an applications are concerned. My favorite application for strength coaches is to run assessments in a fatigued state and compare those scores to their fresh baseline scores. Measuring cognitive decline in a fatigued state puts data behind the pursuit of creating fatigue-resistant athletes, who can not only perform at a high level, but who can also absorb more information in practice and process more variables in games.

To the specific question about “how does getting better at a reactive light board make you a better basketball player”? The answer is “we can’t prove that”. However, it’s the same answer if you’re asked to prove that squatting makes athletes better basketball players…The value of squatting is increased lower body control, joint integrity while cutting/pivoting, accelerating & decelerating, and putting force through the floor. Improvements in these athletic characteristics have been shown to lead to enhanced basketball performance, but not squatting directly.

Lastly, without data measuring all parts of what goes behind a cognitive performance, like reaction time, it’s very hard to isolate what the actual problem is. In the example of reaction time, if there was a concern, you would not be able to discern whether it was a brain processing issue, prioritization, cognitive decline through being distracted, or simply a peripheral vision deficiency. All of these play into reaction time and it’s hard to isolate what the problem is without a data-driven system that can separate all cognitive functions that are involved.

Overall, it’s another tool in the toolbox in the pursuit of helping athletes reach their full potential.