Preventative Brain Assessments and Training for Rugby Players
BASELINE TESTING = FUNCTION ASSESSEMENT
Baseline testing provides information about the function of different aspects of the brain. Knowing what level of function a rugby player was prior to an injury. gives a comparison point. Many rugby players may have functional deficits without symptoms prior to an injury. In the event of a concussion in a rugby practice or game, any functional deficits noted on examination that were not previously known to have existed, will be erroneously 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 will determine how you play the game of rugby 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 the 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 your brain as possible.
Given the high incidence of concussions in rugby 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 rugby player. It only takes a split second of distraction to cause you to drop the 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 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 the 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 rugby players, regardless of position, can be increased with brain based exercises. When is your ability to focus more important than on a conversion attempt? As brain focus comes, potential distractions increase. Impulse control decreases. The slightest sound or movement can cause the eyes to come off the target and send the ball wide.
A rugby players footwork i 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.
How many times have you seen an amazing rugby player break a tackle or maintain their balance after being tripped up, allowing for extra yards or a try? Perfect BALANCE is central to all rugby players. How quickly a player can cut, their ability to spin off a tackle or maintain a scrum is fully dependent on brain functions associated with balance (i.e. vestibular system).
Moreover, 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 makes a rugby player reach their maximum potential, particulary for a Scrum Half. The ability of any 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 succes 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 a care: