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4 Athletes Who Use Neurofeedback to Improve Sports Performance

✎ Written by: Dubravka Rebic ✓ Fact-checked by: Kaija Sander, Ph.D.


Imagine being on the field, court, or track, and suddenly, something clicks. All those doubts that usually bother you vanish, and a powerful surge of confidence takes their place. Your mind zeroes in on the present moment, leaving everything else behind.


Distractions? They fade away. Worries about what might go wrong? Nowhere to be found. All you can hear is the crowd cheering like a rhythm that matches your heartbeat. No more overthinking. No more second-guessing. Just you, fully immersed in what you're doing.


This state of mind is often referred to as "the zone," or the state where everything lines up perfectly, and you're in complete control.


Getting into the zone isn't always easy, and athletes work hard to reach it: they focus on prioritizing proper nutrition, healthy sleep patterns, and rigorous training. But some of them also mention training their brain with neurofeedback as part of their regimen.


In fact, elite athletes such as Kirk Cousins, Lucas Giolito, Kerri Walsh, and Chris Kaman have pointed out that neurofeedback has played a big role in helping them up their game and achieve peak game performance.


But how does neurofeedback work exactly, and how can you utilize it?


How Does Neurofeedback Help Improve Sports Performance?


Just like physical training helps make your body stronger, neurofeedback training can help you feel you are making your mind stronger" by regulating your brain activity so that you can perform at your absolute best in whatever you do.


It does so by offering insight into how your brain operates, letting you know where there's room for improvement, and teaching your brain to reach the optimal state more often.


This is possible thanks to EEG, a brain-sensing technology that measures your brain activity and provides feedback in real time by placing sensors on your head to measure electrical activity in your brain (brainwaves).


Brainwaves are associated with your different levels of consciousness, including alertness, sleep, or focus, and they can provide insights about your current mental state.

The real-time feedback of your brainwave activity is provided using visual (games/videos) and/or auditory (sound effects/music) cues on a computer or a mobile screen.


These cues let you know when you're "in the zone" and when you're not. For example, let's say that your real-time brainwave measurements show that your focus is low. Perhaps your player in the game slows down, or the volume of the music decreases to let you know that your brain is not in its "optimal state." On the other hand, when the optimal state is achieved, your brain is rewarded by your player moving faster or the volume going back up.

With time and practice, your brain gets better and better at staying in that optimal state of control. It starts to remember what it feels like to be balanced and focused, and it should become easier to achieve that state in your everyday life.


As a result of using neurofeedback to improve sports performance, you may notice increased focus, improvement of mood disorders, decreased reaction time, improved balance and coordination, and improved sleep quality.


Now, let's dive into the stories of athletes who train their brains using neurofeedback and have experienced these benefits while improving their game as a result:

1. Baseball: Lucas Giolito


In a remarkable transformation during the span of a few months in 2019, Lucas Giolito progressed from being the weakest starter in the Majors to achieving the status of an American League All-Star pitcher.


“I meditate on occasion, but for me, the biggest thing was neurofeedback in the offseason,” Giolito said in Cleveland at the All-Star Game.


Giolito attributes this astonishing turnaround to the benefits of neurofeedback, which significantly improved his concentration. Lucas Giolito’s brain training protocol helped him maintain a sense of composure, thereby enabling him to stay competitive at the highest level.


2. Beach Volleyball: Kerri Walsh Jennings


Beach Volleyball star and Olympian Kerri Walsh-Jennings made distinct preparations for her third Olympics at the age of 33. In addition to altering her physical training regimen, she added something she had never tried before – brain training.


"While my training had traditionally centered around enhancing physical agility, the inclusion of brain training has proven to refine my mental agility too," she explained.


The 2012 London Olympics came with Kerri facing her share of challenges. Not only was she thirty-three years old, entering that era of life when athletes' bodies begin working against them, and had she given birth to her first child about a year earlier—she was also five weeks pregnant.


And yet, she and her partner, Misty May-Treanor, cruised to their third gold medal in as many Olympic appearances, losing just a single prelim set along the way. Kerri said, "I felt like I was a different athlete."


3. American Football: Kirk Cousins


Quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings, Kirk Cousins, has been doing neurofeedback for over a decade.


In the fourth episode of the Netflix show Quarterback, you can see him sitting in his car and streaming Forensic Files on his phone while wearing a headset that measures his brainwave activity.


"It's a great way for my brain to be trained to be at its absolute best. The beautiful thing about the training is you just kind of let it happen. As long as you can set it up and devote time to it, the training itself does the work for you, you just watch the video", explains Cousins in the fourth episode of Quarterback.


He's doing neurofeedback using Myndlift – a remote neurofeedback app, while also getting additional supervision and guidance through Neuropeak Pro.


4. Basketball: Chris Kaman


Former NBA player Chris Kaman attributes his improvements on the court to his ability to focus, thanks to neurofeedback.


He stated that during his early years in the league, he often couldn't determine what the other team was doing and frequently lost his own game in the process.


Kaman started brain training back in 2008 and soon after reported that his focus was significantly improved: "I can see if the end result is going to be good or bad, so now half the time I won't do it where I usually would just jump right into something and not think twice about it."


His game improved to the point that many believed he deserved a spot on the NBA All-Star team. In fact, Kaman's game averaged a whopping 17.9 points per game in the 2008 NBA season.


How to Do Neurofeedback?


Since the 1960s, when neurofeedback was first invented, technology has advanced in many ways, such that neurofeedback training is no longer limited to the clinic.


Nowadays, you can do therapist-guided neurofeedback from the comfort of your home with the same customizability and personalization the in-office method offers.


Here's how it works:


While wearing a headband that monitors your brain activity, you train with the Myndlift app linked to the headset by Bluetooth.


The Myndlift app delivers visual and auditory feedback during online videos or specialized games, enabling you to see or hear electrical activity in the brain in real time.


For example, just like Kirk Cousins, you would stream a show, and when your brainwaves are in the desired range, positive audio or visual feedback would be delivered. That's how, over time, your brain can learn to regulate itself and achieve an optimal state even in the absence of feedback.




Is Neurofeedback Accessible for All?


In the pursuit of excellence, neurofeedback isn't limited to athletes alone. By engaging in neurofeedback, you can sharpen your focus at work, deepen connections with family and friends, excel in hobbies, adopt new habits, and be more focused and present in anything you do.

Just as athletes have harnessed their potential, you too can unlock a heightened sense of presence and capability. It's like following in the footsteps of your sports heroes and becoming really good at what you do. One fun brain training session at a time!



Myndlift provides a personalized expert-guided brain training program that can help you achieve peak performance by improving your focus, sleep quality, spatial/motor skills, and self-control over mood. Take this 10-second quiz to check if you’re eligible to kick-start your journey for better brain health.


 

About the author:

Dubravka Rebic puts a lot of time and energy into researching and writing in order to help create awareness and positive change in the mental health space. From poring over scientific studies to reading entire books in order to write a single content piece, she puts in the hard work to ensure her content is of the highest quality and provides maximum value.

About the reviewer:

Kaija Sander is a cognitive neuroscientist and scientific consultant for Myndlift. She holds a BSc in Biomedical Science with a specialization in Neuroscience and Mental Health from Imperial College London and a PhD in Neuroscience from McGill University. Her doctoral research focused on brain connectivity relating to second language learning success. She is passionate about the broader applications of science to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

 

References:


Gong A, Gu F, Nan W, Qu Y, Jiang C, Fu Y. A Review of Neurofeedback Training for Improving Sport Performance From the Perspective of User Experience. Front Neurosci. 2021 May 28;15:638369. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2021.638369. PMID: 34127921; PMCID: PMC8195869.

de Brito MA, Fernandes JR, Esteves NS, Müller VT, Alexandria DB, Pérez DIV, Slimani M, Brito CJ, Bragazzi NL, Miarka B. The Effect of Neurofeedback on the Reaction Time and Cognitive Performance of Athletes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Hum Neurosci. 2022 Jun 20;16:868450. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2022.868450. PMID: 35795260; PMCID: PMC9252423.

Lambert-Beaudet F, Journault WG, Rudziavic Provençal A, Bastien CH. Neurofeedback for insomnia: Current state of research. World J Psychiatry. 2021 Oct 19;11(10):897-914. doi: 10.5498/wjp.v11.i10.897. PMID: 34733650; PMCID: PMC8546766.

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