Identifying the ideal cognitive exercise for each sport can seem like searching for a needle in a haystack. However, the goal isn't to find the perfect task but rather to choose a cognitive exercise that complements the mental demands of the athlete's sport. By customizing these tasks, you can create the right amount of cognitive load and stimulate adaptability.
Recognizing the difference between cognitive demands and tasks is instrumental in determining the most suitable cognitive activities to help your athletes achieve their cognitive training objectives.
Let's put this into perspective: If your mission is to boost your athletes' leg strength, there's an array of options at your disposal, ranging from squats and deadlifts to leg curls and extensions. While some exercises may be easier or more challenging, making minor tweaks can drastically change the difficulty level. Altering parameters such as weight, repetitions, pace, or combining exercises can up the ante for your athletes. This principle applies to cognitive training as well. By adjusting factors such as intensity, duration, task placement, and specific modes, you can modify the complexity of any cognitive exercise to make it more or less challenging.
The secret to progression, then, is centered around understanding the cognitive demands of their sport and tailoring the cognitive tasks to generate a sufficient load.
To ascertain whether the cognitive training is sufficiently taxing on the athletes' brains, we suggest utilizing the Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT) as a tool to evaluate the overall cognitive load of the session.
Available in 3, 5, and 10-minute versions, the PVT offers a straightforward method for monitoring mental fatigue levels. By having your athletes complete this objective test before and after training, you can assess their mental fatigue levels and track changes over time. Over several weeks, this will provide valuable insight into the athlete's typical and atypical patterns.
If the athlete's reaction time, variability, and number of lapses increase post-training, it indicates that adequate cognitive stress has been applied, resulting in mental fatigue. This is beneficial as long as the athlete has adequate recovery time.
If you observe that your athletes' reaction time, variability, and lapse count are increasing before their cognitive training over a week, it might be necessary to reduce the cognitive load to allow for recovery. Conversely, if you find that your athletes' PVT scores pre and post-training aren't drastically different, it suggests that the cognitive strain from the training session isn't overly taxing the athlete. This is acceptable if you're aiming for a low-load week or if a competitive event is impending. As with physical training, recovery from the training session is vital, unless you intend to intentionally push them to their limits.
Other methods to monitor the cognitive load of a task include Minute on Minute (MoM) monitoring.
MoM monitoring is an effective strategy to gauge how your athlete is dealing with cognitive stress.
This method offers several advantages:
Cognitive Stress Adaptation: It provides a view of an athlete's cognitive stress levels fluctuation during a cognitive task, thus enabling coaches to modify their training plan accordingly.
Consistency: MoM monitoring allows coaches to assess an athlete's consistency in their performance, helping them identify areas for improvement.
Cognitive and Physiological Breaking Points: It enables coaches to pinpoint the exact moment when an athlete's cognitive and physiological metrics begin to deteriorate, facilitating necessary adjustments to the training program.
Insights into Grand Mean: MoM monitoring delivers a comprehensive picture of how an athlete reaches their grand mean, enabling coaches to better understand their performance.
In summary, concentrate on the cognitive demands of the sport, pick tasks that correspond to these demands, observe the cognitive and physiological data with MoM insights, conduct a PVT before and after training, and adjust task parameters as required. The secret isn't in the task itself, but in the adaptability of the overall load.