The role of cognitive training and mental alertness in sport
Athletes training on the Dynavision aka D2 (Source : SSI)
By Chern Hui Ying
Heard of the old-wives’ tale about having to stay mentally active as a reason to play mahjong or chess? Let’s find out today whether it is a fact!
Being mentally active involves one’s cognitive ability, a “mental capability” that “involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience” (Gottfredson, 1997). Cognitive ability has been found to predict work performance, regardless of the job one holds (Hunter, 1986) and possibly even increase your life expectancy (Bijwaard, van Kippersluis, Veenman, 2015). Generally, cognitive training can help in developing attentional focus, improving one’s memory, and even facilitating the process of rational decision-making.
What we see during a game is just what can be observed from the outside. Have you ever wondered what was going on in the minds of our Team Singapore athletes during a game? Imagine yourself as a football player: standing in the field, with more than 2,000 pairs of eyes watching, as your team and you compete in the biggest game you have ever played. You feel the excitement and pressure of representing your country. With 5 minutes left in the game, your team just needs to score 1 more goal to reach the semi-finals - something your country has not had the chance to do so in the last 20 years!
After having already played for 88 minutes, you are feeling physically exhausted. You keep telling yourself, “Mind over matter”. With just 2 minutes left on the clock and blurry vision from the adrenaline, the ball is passed to you. As you run towards the goal, you see your opponents and both your midfielder and striker are open. Your forward though, had just injured his foot. But he is more likely to score than your midfielder. Who do you choose to pass the ball to?
Being able to analyse the game, the environment, and from past experiences to make a decision in just a few seconds despite both physical and mental exhaustion requires cognitive ability. Can you think of how cognitive ability can affect the performance of athletes in other sports?
Here at Singapore Sport Institute (SSI)
There are many ways to train up one’s cognitive ability. We will be sharing 2 of the many ways used by sport psychologists in SSI.
In between or after some intense physical training, athletes would come into the psychological lab for some intense cognitive training. First, we have our wall “decorations” that serve a purpose beyond just beautifying the room. Different tasks are given each time to train our athletes’ cognitive ability, for example, athletes would be tasked to “find the number of people in striped shirts as fast as possible” or “find the female carrying a bag as fast as possible”.
One of our walls in the lab for cognitive training (Source: SSI)
Second, we use a machine called the Dynavision (also known as D2) with our athletes. We use a “dual task training paradigm” where the athlete must perform 2 tasks - a reaction time task and a cognitive task - simultaneously.
The Dynavision aka D2 (Source : SSI)
For example, the athletes would complete a go/no-go task where they have to press only the buttons that light up in green, therefore training their reaction time and peripheral vision. They would also have to solve some mathematical questions shown on the T-scope (small screen on the equipment). The D2 is used widely, and if you are interested to find out more about how D2 is used globally, check out “The use of Dynavision in sport and exercise research: A review.” by Nathanael Ong (2018), a sport psychologist previously with SSI.
Application to general population
Below are just 3 of the possible resources and suggestions which you can use to train your cognitive ability. There are many platforms and resources available, so if you find that the resources we provided do not suit your needs, feel free to find something else that works best for you!
There are many physical games that can be enjoyed as a game itself while simultaneously practicing some of your cognitive skills. For example, Card Flip Memory Game (https://www.helpfulgames.com/subjects/brain-training/memory.html), Sudoku, Chess, and even Scrabble.
Have fun with your family while at it!
Lumosity (Phone application)
Want to train your cognitive ability on-the-go? Well, Lumosity might be the one for you. It is a phone application with many fun games which would appeal to people of all age groups.
Whether you want to improve your working memory, improve your concentration, or improve your mental flexibility, BrainGymmer’s website (https://www.braingymmer.com/en/) provide many games for you for free! Do sign up for an account if you like to save your scores!
Cognitive training plays a big part in sports, yet it can be fun too, whether it is for athletes or for you and me.
Bijwaard, G. E., van Kippersluis, H., & Veenman, J. (2015). Education and health: The role of cognitive ability. Journal of Health Economics, 42, 29–43. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2015.03.003
Gottfredson, L. S. (1997). Mainstream science on intelligence: An editorial with 52 signatories, history, and bibliography.
Hunter, J. E. (1986). Cognitive ability, cognitive aptitudes, job knowledge, and job performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 29(3), 340–362. doi:10.1016/0001-8791(86)90013-8
Ong, N. C. H. (2018). The use of Dynavision in sport and exercise research: A review. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1–20. doi:10.1080/1612197x.2018.1549582
The Sport Psychology Department at the Singapore Sport Institute (SSI) provides comprehensive, holistic, and evidence-based psychology services to support coaches and sporting programmes in empowering individuals and teams to achieve peak performance. Sport psychology plays a critical role in performance enhancement as well as developing and maintaining athletes’ well-being within the competitive sports environment.