Winning The Brain Game - how football clubs are unlocking the top 2 inches of their players

Tuesday, July 5, 2022
James Stafford

When everyone’s getting faster, fitter and stronger, how can anyone gain an edge?

Nowadays professional football clubs have nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches, and GPS analysts to manage all the physical aspects of performance.

What about the top two inches?

Johan Cruyff was famously a huge advocate for action intelligence:

“Football is a brain game; where to run, when to run, when to cover, when to press, when to move, how to move. It is decisions like these that come from the brain that determines whether you are a good player or not”.

This has always been seen as an intangible quality- something magical and mysterious, like music or art. But what if it can be directly measured? Perhaps improved? Can technology help?

Johan Cruyff described football as a game you play with your brain

Neural Fitness: The Key to Success

In competitive sport (as in life), the brain has to continually interpret patterns of perceptual information so that we can act in the right place, at the right time and in the right way- a process we call ‘Neural Fitness’.

Every action a player performs is the outworking of a complex neural decision-making process. In-depth analysis of a player’s actions in specific contexts provides an invaluable insight into how that player’s brain functions.

If soccer, as Cruyff contends, is essentially a brain game then neural fitness is the key to being brilliant. Over the last 5 years, INCISIV have been carrying out research to understand how the perceptual information picked up by our brains influences our movements in certain contexts e.g. curved free kicks (see below).

Watch: Vicente Guaita is fooled by the the spin Harry Kane places on the ball causing the early flight phase of the ball to be an unreliable source of information.

Measuring Neural Fitness

To do this INCISIV uses immersive, interactive virtual reality technology. This allows us to precisely control what the brain sees (and even hears) and to measure the resulting responses. Precisely controlling the perceptual input and analysing the action output in-situ can give revelatory insight into what’s actually happening in the brain.

Low-cost, high quality immersive technologies, such as Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, are opening new vistas in terms of how behavioural scientists can use their expertise to probe the brain.

Data can be collected on areas of performance which were previously impossible to measure. Analysis can be carried out. Improvements giving players that crucial edge can be made.

The Foundation of All Movement

Professional football clubs have been using INCISIV’s MOViR technology to measure how the brain maintains balance control. Killing two birds with a single stone, this not only mitigates the risk of future re-injury, it also identifies opportunities for player development.

For just one example, consider this: the brain’s ability to maintain balance on the supporting leg while shooting is a significant predictor of shot accuracy (Chew-Bullock et al., 2012), similar to how a rifleman needs to keep the barrel of a gun still before firing.

By using INCISIV’s MOViR, football clubs are creating more efficient movers, who are more accurate and less injury prone.

MOViR’s balance assessments

Making Good Players Great

How we measure athletes has changed for good- in both senses of the phrase. The critical importance of neural fitness is now widely acknowledged. The technology to assess and improve this is becoming increasingly incorporated into sports. The successful clubs of the future recognise this and are already making their moves to be one step ahead of the pack. What we’re  seeing now is merely the tip of the iceberg…

Watch: MOViR | Neural Fitness VR Platform

July 5, 2022
July 5, 2022

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