Can Brain Training Give Athletes a Winning Edge?
Dec. 11, 2014 -- Luke Kunin plays hockey for the elite U.S. National Under-17 Team, so he knows his way around the ice. He’s been skating and taking slap shots almost as long as he’s been walking. He trains hard -- on the rink, in the gym, and in front of a computer.
The 16-year-old added a 30-minute, twice-weekly workout for his brain two seasons ago.
He uses the Hockey IntelliGym, a brain-training program. It’s a type of video game intended to help players develop “hockey sense” -- the ability to focus, make fast, accurate decisions, and to anticipate moves on the ice.
“We get five or six different sessions in one lesson, based on different events you find on the ice, like power plays and penalty kills,” says Kunin, a native of St. Louis whose team is based in Ann Arbor, MI.
The program’s simplistic graphics are a far cry from hyper-realistic video games like the latest "Madden NFL" or "Call of Duty." But, its developers say, that stripped-down approach captures the essence of the game -- and teaches it.
Based on a program first used to enhance the skills of Israeli Air Force pilots, the Hockey IntelliGym has been used by USA Hockey since 2008. The organization’s web site claims the program boosts players’ goals and assists by an average of 42% in the first year.
“We see similar improvements to what we saw in the Air Force,” says Danny Dankner, CEO of Applied Cognitive Engineering, Inc. (ACE), the Israeli firm that developed the IntelliGym.
Kunin says he responds more quickly to situations on the ice since using the program. He sees and notices more.
“It’s helped me most with positioning in the defensive zone so that I’m facing the play and not just running around,” he says.
Beyond the Ice
At the University of California, Riverside, the baseball team tried a different brain-training program two seasons ago. Developed by psychology professor and researcher Aaron Seitz, PhD, and colleagues, the computer-based game was designed to sharpen batters’ vision. The team won four to five more games than expected in its 2013 season.