Neuro-training expert: Success in sports is only 10% physical, you need to train your brain

Neuroscientist Konstantin Sonkin is a Founder and CEO at i-BrainTech, a company that allows athletes to play sports game simulations with their imagination. Their pilot with a professional soccer academy team showcased the tremendous potential of neuro-training in sports. After six weeks, the players improved their accuracy and ball speed by over 30%.

Konstantin tells us all about the power of imagination and the future of neuro-training beyond sports. It could change your life too: the technology helps people after brain injuries, as well as anyone eager to build their cognitive abilities.

Tell us more about the mechanism behind neuro-traininghow is it possible to play sports with one’s mind?

The system is based on two principles: visualization and neurofeedback. Visualization is the practice of mentally simulating physical actions, while neurofeedback measures and controls your brain waves. i-BrainTech implements both, enabling athletes to train their brains and improve their performance. 

By simply imagining movements, you stimulate regions of the brain the same way you perform physical actions. Therefore, while imagining in vivid detail, our technology can detect the strength of the user’s brain activation.

We then give feedback to help athletes understand when they are activating their brains optimally. This neuro-training process leads to enhanced cognitive abilities and improved performance in sports.

It might surprise many readers that training the brain can improve performance on the field. Your company pointed out that success in sports is only 10% physical. How come?

For many years, primary efforts were applied to developing physically fit athletes. Nowadays, most professional clubs use the best techniques for training, development, and tracking their players. 

We’ve been asking: what makes one athlete win and others lose? Everything starts in the brain. It sends commands to your muscles to perform specific movements. If it isn’t operating optimally, the physical performance of the individual will suffer. 

The brain is responsible for many functions required to succeed in sports – for example, concentration, motor control, or spatial awareness. Our system directly trains the brain region responsible for executing movements to enable athletes to perform more quickly and effectively.

In your opinion, does the sports industry acknowledge and leverage this knowledge? 

Most professional teams and athletes acknowledge the brain’s importance, but they do not have the tools to leverage it. 

It is currently not common to measure brain performance; therefore, it is hard to understand how to train the organ without the necessary tools. 

Can you describe the process of your smart training? 

The user puts on a cap and selects a specific drill to work on. We provide a selection of drills relevant to different positions on the field, for example, free kicks, corner kicks, or long and short passes. 

The user then visualizes sport-specific actions and trains their brain in the process, which results in improved performance on the field. While the user imagines, our technology provides feedback on the strength of their brain activation.

The real-time feedback enhances the brain’s capability to plan and execute movements. Through consistent training with the technology, the brain physically rearranges itself to accommodate the rewarded brain activity; a principle referred to as brain plasticity. 

So the brain is essentially rewired in the process. How is this demonstrated when the players go back to “reality”? 

We strive to improve athletes’ physical performance on the field. To achieve that, we partner with professional clubs and establish relevant KPIs, for example, enhancing free kicks and corner kicks. Subsequently, we make the KPIs the focal point of the brain training exercises. Our mission is to link neuro-training to the actual performance in sports, and, in turn, quantify its impact.

You already have tangible results from sports teams implementing neuro-training in their training. What are the biggest learnings and further challenges?

We conducted a pilot with a professional soccer academy team from St Petersburg, FC Zenit. After only six weeks of training, the players improved their accuracy and ball speed by over 30%. 

It was fascinating to see the system accurately detect players’ strengths and weaknesses, blind spots, and game-time anxieties. Not only did this convince players of the system’s reliability, but it allowed them to directly train areas of the brain to overcome real-life challenges and areas of weakness. 

Moving forward, we need to continue to develop drills that are relevant to each and every position on the field. In conclusion, we will keep developing i-BrainTech to make it extremely user-friendly, self-explanatory, and standardized. 

You’re also helping people who suffered a stroke or a brain injury. How does this technology influence their recovery?

People who lost the ability to move due to a brain injury are impaired not because of their physical bodies. The problem is brain impairment and lack of control. That’s why it is so essential to help the brain regain control over these movements.

Recently, very significant publications in this field published intriguing results. There’s a direct correlation between the strength of brain signals of motor areas and the individual’s range of motion in rehabilitation. Through training, your brain can restore connections to correct its signaling. Eventually, it can evolve and improve. Even those who have lost motor control could regain their ability to move.

How do you see the future of neuro-training? Will it become widely accessible beyond sports?

We would like to revolutionize brain (sports) training for all. Our vision is you go to the sports store, buy a fancy cap with a few sensors seamlessly incorporated. Then you take your smartphone, connect to your sport and play a game with your mind. We believe that neuro-training is relevant for every individual – within and outside of the sports arena. After all, it improves overall cognitive abilities. 

In the future, we plan to enter the rehabilitation field and help injured individuals regain motor control and improve their quality of life. We hope to see training the brain as common as training the body. Later on, technology should be accessible to anyone who wants to improve their ability to control movement. 

Konstantin Sonkin is an entrepreneur and Neuroscientist with a Ph.D. in computer science and a postdoc in brain-computer interfaces. He is the founder and CEO of i-BrainTech. i-BrainTech develops products designed to improve athletes’ performance in sports. The company has created a novel brain-training platform to enhance the KPIs of individual athletes, as well as to empower coaches with unique neuro-sport insights. i-BrainTech is on a mission to revolutionize sports training for all with neuro-technology.

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