Human Performance, Performance | Oct 10, 2019
In this third instalment, Optios touches upon brain plasticity and how it can be harnessed by elite athletes to rewire and upgrade their brains.

An article brought to you in association with our Partners Optios:

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Optios, formerly The Platypus Institute is a pioneering leader in the field of maximizing elite-level sports performance based on neurocognitive assessments and has extensive experience working with coaches and athletes. For more information click here.

The legendary baseball player and manager Yogi Berra, who was world-renowned for his humorous “Yogi-isms” once quipped, “Baseball is 90% mental. The other half is physical.”

Coaches and athletes have known for decades that, in sports, most of the game is mental. Historically, the mental aspect of sports has only been psychology-based and has not involved brain science. This is about to change.

Elite athletes know they’ve got to have their head in the game and stay ‘in the zone’ to win. Today, for the first time in modern history, portable neuroimaging technology (that doesn’t require someone to lie horizontally in an MRI) makes it possible to capture real-time images that illustrate, in vivid color, precisely what the brain is doing when an athlete says, “I’ve got my head in the game and am in the zone.” 

Just like muscles get stronger using proven methods in the gym, the latest proven neuroscience takes the guesswork out of training and strengthening an athlete’s brain. Neuroperformance combines three things: applied neuroscience, state-of-the-art neurocognitive assessments, and elite sports performance.

“We can use proven neuroscience technology to rewire the brain, so it gets faster and so that athletes can be in the zone on a regular basis,” David Bach, MD, who is the CEO and founder of Optios, said in a recent interview.

Dr. Bach, who founded Optios in 2016, grew up in a family of scientists. As he explains, “My dad is the guy who invented bone marrow transplantation; my mom was a famous biochemist. I grew up surrounded by the world of science and the scientific method. Not surprisingly, after college, I became a scientist and physician. I attended and worked at Harvard Medical School — and spent a lot of my early years in laboratories — looking at cells, looking at data, reading scientific journals, and hanging out with research scientists.” 

The importance of rigorous science was drummed into Bach’s head from a young age. “My parents taught me: Never believe what people tell you. Never believe common wisdom. Investigate and do your own research. Look at the raw data. Form your own hypotheses and test those hypotheses,” he says. “This way of thinking has permeated my life — and has had a huge impact on me, for better or for worse.” 

Bach’s lifelong connection to rigorous science combined with a unique passion for human development is a key reason he founded Optios. 

“It’s all about having something which is grounded in rigorous scientific methods and strong neuroscience,” he continues. “The way we’re doing it at Optios is in a very rigorous scientific fashion. We are doing case studies to show that we can take golfers and take strokes off their game. We can take basketball players and improve their free-throw average.” 

The applied neuroscience techniques developed by Optios also improve the processing speed needed for a pro cricketer to navigate the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ with grace under pressure or for elite rugby league players to optimize ‘reactive agility’ and perceptual abilities. 

In the last decade or so, one of the most important discoveries in the world of neuroscience is that the brain is plastic and that it continuously rewires and reshapes itself. 

“With the brain plasticity discovery, neuroscientists started to understand that we can actually use technology to induce rewiring in the brain to make it faster and to learn things more quickly,” Bach explains.

“We’re actually changing the brain’s performance in a very profound and measurable way. The concept of neuroperformance started in the scientific arena and then moved into the military arena. This type of technology is now migrating its way into the commercial realm. The first and probably the most important place where it’s going to be used is in sports.”

Training the brain is just as important as training the body. Cutting-edge neuroscience combined with proprietary technology allows the Optios group to create personalized action plans and tailored prescriptive advice that holistically optimizes the performance of an athlete’s brain.

Today, applied neuroscience makes it possible to measure the brain, train the brain, and upgrade the brain in the same way elite athletes have been measuring, training, and improving their performance ‘below the neck’ for centuries. Optios is one of a few select organizations that are pioneers in a new, neuroperformance-driven world that focuses on what’s happening ‘above the neck’ during elite sports training and competition.

One of the most exciting things happening in the sports world right now is the rapid evolution of cutting-edge tools Optios has designed and implemented to accurately measure brain functions like processing speed, reaction time, field of view, and the ability to get in the zone. By applying these aggressive technological techniques — that combine neurofeedback, applied neuroscience, and cognitive training to rewire and upgrade the brain — professional athletes experience game-changing improvements.

Optios’s commitment to approaching neuroperformance from a rigorous scientific perspective makes them a trusted leader in this space.

As Bach explains, “There is a lot of snake oil in anything that involves improving the performance of someone’s body or brain. There’s a lot of stuff [being sold] out there where people are making claims that may not be backed up by science. So, the foundational theory in our work at Optios is that we want to do things that are scientifically rigorous and measurable.”

Proven neuroscience-based methods make a profound difference in elite sports performance. “We’re at a place right now where the leading athletes and the leading teams are beginning to experiment with neuroperformance, and they are absolutely finding that their investment is paying off,” says Bach . He predicts that neuroperformance is going to be a critical component in training programs for all professional and athletic organizations soon.

Bach also makes some bold, evidence-based predictions about applied neuroscience: “Let me go on and say that in the next 36 months, it’s going to be impossible to compete without incorporating neuroscience. So you’re going to see early adopters, you’re going to see it make its way into support and within 36 months the teams who are not doing it are going to be consistently losing simply because without it you’re just not going to be able to compete.”

Visionary thought leaders realize that, in 2020 and beyond, it will become increasingly necessary for professional sports teams to incorporate some form of neuroperformance training and applied neuroscience to stay competitive and win. This is why neuroscience promises to be a game-changer for elite sport.

For more on neuroscience, check out the first two articles in this series:

Headstart: Demonstrating the Value of Neurocognitive Assessments for Pro Athletes, Coaches & Scouts

Headstart: Why Athletes and Coaches Are Turning Toward Neuroscience

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