Preventative Brain Assessments and Training for Cheerleading
BASELINE TESTING = FUNCTION ASSESSEMENT
Baseline testing provides information about the function of different aspects of your brain. Knowing what level of function a cheerleader was prior to an injury, gives a comparison point. Many cheerleaders may have functional deficits without symptoms prior to an injury. In the event of a concussion during cheer practice or competition any functional deficits noted on examination that were not previously known to have existed, will be incorrectly attributed to the recent injury. Basic ImPACT baselines are an absolute must and a deeper understanding of how well your brain is functioning can be determined with a comprehensive evaluation.
PERFORMANCE = PREVENTION
How your brain is functioning not only determines how well you perform in cheer competition but will also impact your ability to avoid injuries. Peripheral vision, balance, joint stabilization and reaction time are all functions of the brain that when functioning at an optimal level, can help the athlete avoid injury.
All things being equal, a higher functioning brain should give you a better outcome in the event of a traumatic brain injury. The research suggests that in the event of a concussion, anybody with ADHD or dyslexia has a worse prognosis than somebody without this neurobehavioral state. Simply put, if an area of brain has functional challenges pre-injury and this area is concussed, the outcome or prognosis will likely be worse.
Given that the research supports this for ADHD and dyslexia, it is potentially true for any region with diminished function. Therefore, the logical thing to do is to ensure that we maximize the functional integrity of as many aspects of brain as possible.
Given the high incidence of concussions in cheer and the serious long term consequences of concussions, it is time that a new approach is taken. The new approach considers “function” of brain performance and not just symptoms. Just because symptoms have resolved, does not mean your brain function has been restored.
FUNCTION = PERFORMANCE
VISUAL FUNCTION is essential for both the Flyer and the Spotter. The Flyer’s very capacity to maintain balance is influenced by their visual function. It only takes a split second of distraction to cause the Spotter to take their eyes off the Flyer resulting in disaster. When your mind wanders, your eyes also wander. If your mind is locked in, your eyes will be locked in. The more your eyes are locked on the target, the better you will be able to track the Flyer or maintain balance with appropriate visual fixation. Quick eye movements, eye tracking, visual fixation are all visual functions that are governed by brain and will make the difference between a well performed stunt and a disaster. These visual functions can be tested and improved upon within weeks.
The FOCUS that is essential for any cheer position, can be increased with brain based exercises. When is your ability to focus more important than when performing a difficult stunt during a competition? As brain focus comes down, distractions increase. Impulse control decreases. The slightest sound or movement can cause the eyes to come off the target and result in failure of the stunt and injury to the team.
The ability to BLOCK OUT DISTRACTIONS is key for spotting or basing. The movements of the players, the crowd noise, a flickering light or flash of a camera and a host of other factors, can distract the spotter or base. Impulse control and your ability to attend, is key to preventing injuries.
Every position on a cheer team requires RHYTHM AND TIMING. The Flyer has to decide whether to stick, hit or pull the stunt and the spotter need perfect timing to catch the Flyer. Rhythm and timing of the whole unit is central to the teams success. Basing requires perfect timing for knowing when to dip, step or lock and synchronizing all the moves. The coordination, speed and quickness of the feet and hands are dependent on the functional level of your brain.
Perfect BALANCE is central to all cheerleading stunts. The less the Flyer wobbles the easier it is for the Base to support her. Each individual must hold perfect center of gravity or the errors in body position and weight distribution will cause the stunt to crumble. Balance function also relates to stability of your spine, shoulders, knees and ankles. Balance with the head and body in any position is important for neck stability and consequently concussion prevention. Injury prevention starts with perfect balance.
Motor functions are developed through repetition. You develop these built in motor programs through practice. However, the area of brain that holds these motor programs is governed, controlled or initiated by other frontal cortex areas. MOTOR PLANNING, MOTOR SEQUENCING, MOTOR INITIATION is the difference between a well executed stunt or failure.
Above all else, DECISION MAKING is what ultimately maximizes safety for the cheerleaders. Decision making quality, under changing circumstances and the inherent pressure of being judged and having all eyes on you, is dependent on processing speed. Content and speed of processing can be measured and conditioned.
In the end, when we are talking about concussions, prevention, performance or brain training, it isn’t an either or situation but rather a continuum of care: