HOW TEAMS AND ATHLETES ARE USING SENSORY DEPRIVATION TO ENHANCE SKILL.
We hear it about great team-sport athletes all the time, “he or she has great vision out there on the ice”. We think of athletes like Sidney Crosby, Steph Curry, and Cristiano Ronaldo as great playmakers with an unparalleled “sense for the game”.
Having “great vision for the game” may be more literal than we initially thought. Sure, we were taught in grade school that we have five senses (touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell), but 70% of our sensory experiences reach our brain by way of our eyes.
With this in mind, high performance athletics has increasingly sought out ways to build up athletes’ sensory capacities to heighten their awareness during competition.
One athlete who has really embraced this type of training is 2-time NBA MVP Steph Curry. Curry’s trainer Brandon Payne has designed a training program that “brings the stress of a game environment to the practice court”. Together, their focus is on creating sensory overload for Steph – overwhelming his mind with stress while simultaneously forcing him to make quick decisions. The training has evolved to include a set of vision impairing goggles that randomly obstruct Curry’s eyesight while he executes skill drills. A video of their training went viral a couple of years ago.
The idea is that by limiting to his core vision, the training forces Curry to use some of his other skills like his peripheral vision, depth perception, and eye hand coordination in a more pronounced way. By isolating these weaker functioning systems, Curry strengthens his overall senses. Payne calls it “resistance training” for your brain.
The idea of impairing vision to improve performance has also made its way to the ice, with the Carolina Hurricanes testing a similar concept at their training camp.
Researchers at Duke University wanted to test the impact that vision impairment would have on skill development in hockey. So, they partnered with the Carolina Hurricanes to test their idea on players during training camp.
The study began with a baseline test of accuracy (both shooting and passing), then the researchers had “stroboscopes” (vision impairing glasses) strapped onto half of the Hurricanes roster. The glasses would rotate from a “clear state” to an “obstructed state” at random as players completed a series of drills. After a couple of sessions with the glasses, all of the players were given the same accuracy test from the beginning of training camp. Those not wearing the glasses saw no measurable improvement in skills, however those who did wear the glasses saw an 18% improvement on skills performance.
The results suggest that impairing core vision caused players to tap into their additional senses (like peripheral vision) and improved their overall sensory function.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR ATHLETES
At a very practical level, Steph Curry’s training and the Carolina Hurricanes study highlight the importance of purposefully targeting our identified weaknesses in training. Too often we see athletes (and coaches) continuing to work on and refine strengths instead of leaning into areas of opportunity. By forcing themselves into uncomfortable training positions, both Curry and the Hurricanes players have managed to manufacture improvement against some of their weaker senses.
The study should also open the eyes of athletes (pun intended) to the type of technology that is available to supplement training. The technology used by Steph Curry and Duke University researchers is available to athletes for use at home and/or with their trainers. The technology comes with software that helps build training for athletes to use on their own time and as part of their regular training.
Curry and Payne train with Senaptic Strobe googles and while the glasses are not cheap, the are available for purchase. More information can be found here: https://senaptec.com/
Overall, this kind of research suggests that the future of athletic training looks to be very clear. Or perhaps it’s just the opposite …
Mitroff, S.R., Friesen, P., Bennet, D., Reichow, A.W. (2013) Enhancing Ice Hockey Skills Through Stroboscopic Visual Training: A Pilot Study. Athletic Training and Sports Health Care. 5(6): 261-264 https://www.healio.com/orthopedics/journals/atshc/2013-11-5-6/%7B9cf36fe8-9769-4909-acae-5419d69ab6b5%7D/enhancing-ice- hockey-skills-through-stroboscopic-visual-training-a-pilot-study#divReadThis