A healthy brain is crucial to performance

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Metrifit Athlete Monitoring Software

The Brain Always Wins
No matter what level of sport an athlete is competing at, it is accepted that their performance is more than just down to physical readiness as being prepared psychologically to overcome challenges is just as important. Many analysts have looked on this aspect of performance and used terms such as, ‘mental toughness’, ‘focus’, or ‘being in the zone’, to describe such attributes. It is certainly one of the most interesting and widely debated areas of sport and a new book The Brain Always Wins, published by Dr John Sullivan and Chris Parker argues that we should not simply be looking at the state of mind of an athlete at a particular moment, but we should focus on the overall health of our brain if we want to improve performance. Dr Sullivan, a sport psychologist and scientist who has worked with many sports teams in the NFL, English Premier League, and with the US military, along with many leading businesses, is not suggesting that sports psychology does not have an important role, but he believes the work needs to start at an earlier stage to ensure you get the best out of an athlete.

The brain is at the centre of everything

That starting point is to ensure we look after the health of our brain and in an interview with Nick DiNardo, to discuss the contents of The Brain Always Wins he outlines why the brain is central to how we perform, not the mind

The brain is the most sophisticated survival system in the universe and it is so good at what it does. The difference between the brain and the mind is critical as the brain is the organ and everything works in service of it. Although we have theories, very little is known about the mind, but we do know that the mind develops because of the brain

As a result he points out that it is the brain who takes charge of the mind and trying to do things the other way around is counter-productive

We are all brain-first performers as the brain is the central governor. It has been said that sport is 90% mental, but in reality sport is 100 % brain. The mental part is very small as conscious thought in high performance situations is very low because once we learn how to master something it is stored in a part of our brain that we can’t consciously access… At a certain point mastery takes over so we don’t have to think through the process so athletes that are really good at something are not thinking consciously, as the more conscious thought that comes into it, the more the performance goes down

The reason the athlete is able to perform at such a level is that the brain is able to identify patterns and follow them. This idea of athletes being able to perform without thinking is often referred to as ‘being in the zone’, and is discussed in terms of it being a mental state that the athlete is able to reach. However, Dr Sullivan points out that the credit for this state is with the brain rather than the mind and having mastered what you are doing allows the brain to see a pattern and follow the process. He uses the example of driving to illustrate the point by stating that those who have mastered the skills of driving often find it difficult to teach the skills to somebody. This is because you have to go through the process step-by-step with information that is hard for us to access through conscious thought. This may also help us understand the fact that so many elite and successful athletes find it difficult to reach the same levels in their coaching careers. Although it may be very difficult to imitate the skill sets of the elite athletes, the good news is that the process by which they are able to perform at their optimum level can be repeated, as pointed out by Daniel Gallan in The Fallacy of Mental Toughness: Why The Brain Always Wins.

Gut instincts are trainable. Entering the “zone” should not be seen as something that happens accidentally. Since this state is entered through a neuro-physiological process, and not through a series of subjective interpretations of abstract events, it can be replicated and improved.

As a result of the findings of Sullivan and Carter, it follows that a healthy brain will perform better and in doing so will lead to improvements for the athlete.

The PROCESS of keeping brain healthy

In their book they identify the key elements which help produce a healthy brain which are encapsulated under the acronym, PROCESS, and in his interview with Nick DiNardo, Dr Sullivan explains the seven factors involved.

    • P: Physical activity: Movement serves the brain by providing an even blood flow, and exercise improves our organs which also serve the brain

 

    • R: Rest & Recovery: This is the factor that brings everything together as the brain goes through a detox during sleep and if this doesn’t happen the systems are not fully effective

 

    • O: Optimal nutrition: Eating for taste and enjoyment is a modern development as our bodies were designed to eat in order to produce neurotransmitters which keep our brains healthy

 

    • C: Cognitive training: There are things we can do to load our brains in order to improve functions such as attention and memory

 

    • E: Emotional Management: Our evolutional survival skills mean that we feel before we think so feelings are part of our decision-making process. Therefore management of our emotions allows for better performance in whatever we are involved in

 

    • S: Socialisation: We need to connect with people and the quality of that interaction adds to our brain health

 

    • S: Synergy: This is about putting together a programme that fits a particular individual in order to improve brain health

As a result of the findings, Dr Sullivan believes a change of approach is required in order to get the best out of an athlete’s brain, and this is eloquently summed up by Daniel Gallan:

Language is key. Illusions and myths are allowed to persist because we don’t challenge them and keep calling them by the wrong name. Without the proper nomenclature nothing will change. We will continue to see sleep problems, nutrition problems and mental problems but they won’t get fixed. It’s physiology. What I’m proposing is bringing it back to the basics. The brain has to be the start point. Fixing the mind without addressing the brain is just not possible and those mental experts could be doing more harm than good.

About Metrifit

Metrifit is an athlete monitoring system that gathers subjective and objective information from both coaches and athletes to drive behavior modification and improvement through insights modeled on descriptive and predictive analytics. It sounds complicated but Metrifit prides itself on its simple intuitive interface and advocates a simple effective approach that doesn’t overwhelm the athlete or the coaching/staff member. It has received high praise for its intuitive interface and it allows monitoring to be scaled for all levels of athletes and teams. Recent research by Anna Saw (Deakin University, Australia) has shown that use of Metrifit is associated with increased athlete sporting self-confidence. Metrifit is ‘athlete-centric’ helping to develop self-awareness, encourage creative thinking and emotional intelligence as well as developing ownership and responsibility within the athlete for their own success.

To find out more information please visit Metrifit Overview or contact us at

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References

The Brain Always Wins

The fallacy of mental toughness: Why the brain always wins by Daniel Gallan

Dr. John Sullivan on Why The Brain Always Wins, and the Importance of P.R.O.C.E.S.S.