Preventative Brain Assessments and Training for Football Players
BASELINE TESTING = FUNCTION ASSESSEMENT
Baseline testing provides information about the function of different aspects of your brain. Knowing what level of function a player was prior to an injury, gives a comparison point. Many players may have functional deficits without symptoms prior to an injury. In the event of a concussion in a football practice or game 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 determine how well you play the game of football but will also impact your ability to avoid collisions. Peripheral vision, balance and reaction time are all functions of the brain that when functioning at an optimal level, can help the player 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 football 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 a QUARTERBACK, RECEIVER or DEFENSIVE BACK. It only takes a split second of distraction to cause you to drop a ball. 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 to the target, the better you will be able to track the ball. Quick eye movements, eye tracking, visual fixation are all visual functions that are governed by brain and will make the difference between a touchdown and an incomplete pass. These visual functions can be tested and improved upon within weeks.
The FOCUS that is essential for all football players, regardless of position, can be increased with brain based exercises. When is your ability to focus more important than on a field goal attempt? 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 send the ball wide.
The ability to BLOCK OUT DISTRACTIONS is key for an OFFENSIVE or DEFENSIVE LINEMAN. The movement of the defensive players, the crowd noise, a flickering light and a host of other factors, can distract a player. Impulse control and your ability to attend, is key to preventing a player from jumping the count and going offside.
A RUNNING BACK’S footwork is like a dance that requires RHYTHM AND TIMING. Rhythm and timing are governed by your brain. The coordination, speed and quickness of the feet are dependent on the functional level of your brain.
How many times have you seen an amazing RUNNING BACK or RECEIVER break a tackle or maintain their balance after being tripped up, allowing for extra yards? Perfect BALANCE is central to all football players but no more so than for a running back. How quickly a running back or receiver can cut, their ability to spin off a tackle is fully dependent on brain functions associated with balance (i.e. vestibular system).
Balance function also relates to stability of your spine, knees and ankles. Injury prevention starts with perfect balance. Balance with your head and body in all positions is important for neck stability and consequently concussion prevention.
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 being first of the mark or being caught off guard or slow to react?
Above all else, DECISION MAKING is what makes a football player reach their maximum potential, particularly a MIDDLE LINEBACKER or QUARTERBACK. The ability of a middle linebacker or quarterback to see the whole field, recall where all the players are on both teams, analyze their options and potential moves or counter moves while under pressure, is crucial to the success of any team. 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: