In the quest to provide the perfect cognitive exercise for each sport, it's easy to get lost in a sea of possibilities. The truth, however, is that no single exercise universally meets every need across all sports. Rather, the focus should be on selecting and tailoring cognitive tasks that cater specifically to the cognitive demands of each athlete's sport, challenging their adaptability while providing a sufficient cognitive load.
Understanding the distinction between cognitive demands and tasks is the first step towards this goal.
Picture this: if your aim is to build your athletes' leg strength, you have various exercises to choose from, including squats, deadlifts, leg curls, and leg extensions. Some exercises may initially be more challenging than others, but with minor adjustments, such as increasing weight or repetitions, slowing down the pace, or pairing exercises (supersets), you can tweak the challenge level for your athletes.
The same principle applies to cognitive training. By manipulating variables like task intensity, duration, positioning, and specific modes, you can adjust the complexity of any cognitive task, making it either more challenging or simpler depending on your athletes' needs.
So, the key to cognitive training progression lies not in the task itself, but in addressing the specific cognitive demands of the sport and modifying the task to generate adequate cognitive load.
To ensure that your cognitive training sessions are exerting enough strain on your athletes' brains, we suggest using the Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT). This handy tool can measure the overall cognitive load of a session and is available in 3, 5, and 10-minute versions. By having your athletes complete this quick, objective test before and after training, you can monitor their mental fatigue levels and track changes over time.
If the athlete's reaction time, variability, and number of lapses increase after the training session, it signifies the training has successfully induced mental fatigue—an advantageous outcome, given that the athlete has sufficient recovery time.
If, however, an athlete's reaction time, variability, and lapse count increase before cognitive training over a week, it might be necessary to reduce the cognitive load to allow for recovery. Conversely, if the PVT scores before and after training don't significantly change, it suggests the cognitive load from the training session isn't excessively taxing the athlete. This outcome is desirable if your goal is a low-load week or if a competitive event is upcoming.
Another technique to keep an eye on the cognitive load of a task is Minute on Minute (MoM) monitoring. MoM offers several benefits:
- Cognitive Stress Adaptation: It gives insights into an athlete's cognitive stress fluctuations during a task, empowering coaches to fine-tune their training plans.
- Consistency: MoM monitoring allows coaches to assess an athlete's performance consistency, helping identify areas that require improvement.
- Cognitive and Physiological Breaking Points: It enables coaches to detect when an athlete's cognitive and physiological metrics start to decline, facilitating timely adjustments to the training program.
- Insights into Grand Mean: MoM monitoring provides a holistic understanding of how an athlete achieves their grand mean, equipping coaches with a deeper comprehension of their performance.
In conclusion, the secret to successful cognitive training isn't in the task itself, but in the adaptability of the overall load. Concentrate on the cognitive demands of the sport, choose tasks that align with these demands, monitor cognitive and physiological data with MoM insights, conduct a PVT before and after training, and adjust task parameters as necessary. This method, if consistently applied, will guide you in creating a robust and efficient cognitive training program for your athletes, enhancing their performance both on and off the field.