Brain Power On and Off the Pitch

Written By: David Burns

brain power An article in the New York Times referenced recent research that suggests that there is a relationship between soccer skill and higher brain function, specifically “Executive Function”.

If you came to the conclusion that this area of brain is probably important, than you would be absolutely correct. It is after all the “Executive” of the brain. This area of brain is parked right up front in the Pre-Frontal cortex and is job description of planning, organizing and sequencing events. When this area of brain is not doing well a person might have difficulty with judgment, establishing or changing a set behavior, there could be issues with language development or even problems with repetitive thoughts or actions.

The author referred to this area’s function or ability as “Game Intelligence”. What is critical to understand is that we are not just talking about the “Game” on the pitch but rather, and more importantly the “Game” of life that is most relevant. Our brains don’t discriminate between our mental capacities on and off the field. Attention is attention and judgment is judgment. If you can quickly work with information and make decisions about your environment, this has implications on the pitch, the court, the ice, the classroom and in the office.

The author comments that it “… isn’t clear whether athletes acquire these functions over time, or whether they are inherited” but later proposes that it is likely both. Ah…the old nature vs. nurture question that was raised in every university psychology class. We may very well be born with some natural skills, but in my humble opinion,there are likely more influential factors in our environment.

We quickly figure out, or more likely are told what we are good at and then migrate to these things because we get validation for our performance, which further validates and solidifies our self created reality. The issue here is that the so called deficits are avoided and hence become true weaknesses. It becomes a self full-filling prophecy. Don’t use a given brain “muscle” and you can be sure it will become progressively weaker.”Oh, I’m not good at names.” We often just give ourselves or our children a pass.

The author goes on to say that we can “…always improve executive functions if you train.” Perfect! Now wouldn’t it be great if we could look at some windows into function that would give us an idea about the level of performance of this particular muscle or other important “brain muscles” and then choose exercises that could improve not only their performance but help train our brain in ways that are absolutely key to a higher level of functioning in life.

Well it just so happens that we can test these “muscles” and we can provide exercises to train our brain. The concept of being pro-active and protecting brain, actively treating brain with an emphasis on function when injured and lastly optimizing the functions of brain including “Executive Functions” is central to the philosophy of Brain Centers NW.

We have all heard that “90% of the game is mental”. So why do we spend so little time training our brain?

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