Brain Assessments and Training for Lacrosse (LAX)
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 lacrosse practice or game, any noted functional deficits during an examination that were not known to have pre-existed, will be incorrectly attributed to the injury that was just sustained. 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 well your brain is functioning not only will determine how you play the game of lacrosse but will also impact your ability to avoid collisions and increase your resilience of inevitable 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 ensure that we maximize the functional integrity of as many aspects of brain as possible.
Given the high incidence of concussions in lacrosse 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 brain function has been restored.
FUNCTION = PERFORMANCE
VISUAL FUNCTION is essential for any player out on the field or in net. It only takes a split second of distraction to cause you to lose track of the ball and drop it. 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 great catch and shot or the ball rolling out of bounds. These visual functions can be tested and improved upon within weeks.
The FOCUS that is essential for all lacrosse players, regardless of position, can be increased with brain based exercises. As brain comes down and you lose focus, distractions increase. Impulse control decreases. The slightest sound or movement can cause the eyes to come off the target, which will result in a drop ball, poor pass or a missed goal opportunity. The ability to BLOCK OUT DISTRACTIONS is key for any player, especially in high pressure games.
Being light on your feet, agile, quick to make breaks and anticipate your opponents move, 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 the brain. Quick brain equals quick feet; agile mind equals agile body.
Perfect BALANCE is central to all lacrosse players but no more so than when you are trying to role off a defender and drive the net. A diminished or asymmetric vestibular system (i.e. balance system) will affect your ability to maintain balance on the turn and deliver the shot. Moreover, your balance determines your stability when you are being checked. Therefore, how quickly a lacrosse player can cut and 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 off the mark or being caught off guard and slow to react?
Above all else, DECISION MAKING is what allows a lacrosse player to reach their maximum potential. The ability of a lacrosse player 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: