Having a healthy brain is essential to your overall athletic performance.
When you've taken a blow to the head, there is always the feeling like you can perform at the level you were at prior to the head injury. The science, unfortunately, says otherwise.
While your brain is recovering you are not as good an athlete. In this blog we're going to look at some of the short and long term affects that head injuries have on your athletic performance and what can be done to speed up the healing process.
The speed at which you react to things is dictated by the bodies ability to intake and process data, then send your reaction from the brain, through your nervous system to your muscles. Usually without you even thinking about it.
Now, whether you're a boxer, a rugby play, or a cricketer, those lightning quick reaction times are core to your athletic ability.
In the short term, the physical damage that happens inside the brain slows the speed of processing down, it also means your eyes aren't moving as quickly to pick up whatever is coming at you that you need to react to.
This reduction in your visuo-motor functionality is especially observable in your peripheral vision meaning your overall awareness is greatly decreased after a concussion. Remember, the punches you don't see are the ones that hurt the most. On average, a concussion affects your reaction times by approximately 13.5%, which in a game of inches, can be a mile.
In the long term, your brain releases chemicals in the hours and days after an impact that further reduces your brains ability to process data as effectively.
Gradually, as your brain heals your reaction times will return to somewhere around where they were before. It's important to remember however that the damage from multiple concussions reduces reaction times permanently. It's called CBI or cumulative brain injury. It's one of the reasons why if you want to be a great athlete you need to ensure you look after your brain, especially in your earlier years.
Keeping your head in the game and maintaining that flow state is what separates winners from losers. That split second you were looking at the score board or thinking about your opponent, is the split second you lose.
There has been a lot of research into the ways you can train your brains ability to stay in a concentrated state, using exercises done during training to focus the mind, but there is also a lot of research out there in how concussions can undo all of that hard work.
The science behind this is centered on damage caused to a region of the brain called the lateral intraparietal cortex. This controls your attention by managing what is and is not important at any given time. This region then stimulates the medial temporal area which influences the processing of visual information, determining what visual information is attended to. When these areas of the brain are damaged, the ability to stay focused on the task at hand is affected.
The bad news is that this form of damage takes a long time to return to normal. Studies have shown that concentration can still be affected at 3 - 6 months after a head injury if it hasn't been properly dealt with at the time of impact.
TACTICAL DECISION MAKING
What's the play? What's the game plan this round? What's the defensive call?
These are the questions that have to be answered every time you're out there competing. Your ability to answer them effectively is reliant on a few things:
1. The preparation that went in 3 weeks ago to learn your tactics.
2. What you see in front of you right now and how to incorporate that into what you learnt 3 weeks ago.
3. Your brains ability to process all of that information and give you the game winning answer.
Mental cognition is one of the fundamental aspects of elite athletic performance, when it's compromised that's when mistakes happen - aka Liverpool keeper Karius in the champions league final having two easily avoidable blunders after an elbow to the side of the head.
In the short term, one of the biggest contributors to poor decision making from head injury is memory. Disruptions in the structure in the brain from an impact cause lapses in memory, and if you can't accurately recall what the opposition did for their last three plays, how can you make the best decision on what to do next? It's next to impossible.
Long term, your overall mental cognition is reduced during the healing process and in turn your general ability to make great in the moment decisions is also affected.
HOW TO STAY GREAT
Keeping that brain on the top of it's game is what will set you apart as an athlete, so here are some top tips on maintaining your brain health.
1. Know when it's time to step away from the game - look, sometimes the risk is worth the reward. Buster Douglas picked himself up off the canvas and knocked out Tyson. It does happen. A good gambler goes into a casino knowing how much they can afford to lose, worst case scenario. Be a good gambler.
2. Seek medical attention immediately - there aren't any prizes for not seeing a doctor and getting a professional opinion.
3. Recover like you're training for a title - a full recovery is essential in returning your brain to how it was before the impact. Your future athletic career depends on it, that means an active recovery. Stay away from phones and screens, adjust your diet accordingly, take Concussion Pro 1 ELITE, do light cardiovascular exercise daily and follow any advice given to you by a medical professional with expertise in concussion management.
4. Don't return to play too quickly - taking another concussion while you're still recovering from a pre-existing one is when permanent damage is done. If you're worried about losing your edge while you take time off, start drilling the skills or find another way you can add something to your game while you recovering.