Brain, Brawn, or Both?

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The relation between cognitive science and human performance has been a hot topic over the past few years. When elite level professional athletes perform unforgettable moments in sport, we often tell ourselves it all has to do with the talent of the athlete. Of course talent plays its role in how well some athletes perform, however, the brain is playing an even more significant role. Generational athletes LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Sidney Crosby, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Trout, Babe Ruth, Tom Brady, and Joe Montana all have and had the physical talent to carry teams to playoffs and championships. But it's the mental, cognitive, and visual side of these athletes game that allows them to differentiate themselves from the physically talented athletes they compete against. Over the last decade or so, this generation of superstar and future Hall of Fame athletes have consistently been in the playoffs while also putting up MVP calibre statistics.

LeBron James. Arguably the best to ever play the game of basketball. At 6'8" and 250lbs, he has the Brawn to drive to the basket and make plays that most athletes can't. Sure, there are other basketball players that can do this such as Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. But none can consistently put this type of performance on night in and night out. This is where LeBron separates himself from everyone else. His Brain takes over. Have you ever noticed his no look pass prowess and ability to predict where to be on the court at any given time for an uncontested shot? The simultaneous ability of his Brawn and Brain working seamlessly together to deliver consistent jaw-dropping stat lines is the difference. Through the 2018 NBA playoffs so far, he has put up 8 40+ point games, including a 51 point performance in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. It is during that split second where he is in the triple threat position that he uses his Brain. In that decision making process, choosing to dribble or shoot is a combination of his Brain and Brawn working together. Even at the moment when he is driving to the basket for a layup, he is still using Both the Brain and Brawn. This idea of both the body and brain working together may seem obvious but it is how he uses them in sync to his advantage that is so impressive. Most players will choose inopportune times to shoot, pass, or dribble while superstar athletes minimize these cognitive errors. This results in individual and team success for players like LeBron, Durant, Harden, and Irving. Of the four major sports, basketball may require the most Brawn. Which begs the question, is it Brain, Brawn, or Both in hockey, baseball, and football?

Sidney Crosby. Have you seen the unbelievable highlight reel plays of Sidney Crosby's hand-eye coordination skills? That is one of the many skills that makes him one of the best players of his generation. Brawn may not describe Sidney's stature as he is 5'11" and 200lbs but he still uses his Brawn to make plays. That doesn't deny his athletic ability and use of his Brain allowing him to put up impressive numbers year after year. His playmaking and awareness of where his teammates and opponents are at all times gives him the opportunity to set up goals. Since he does a superb job with puck control, teams double team him which opens up more ice for his teammates. Being able to make the pass to the open player while being double teamed is impressive and only few players have this game changing ability. Crosby's Brawn does the work to keep the puck with him and his Brain is looking for the best set of plays for his team to execute. Crosby's ability to score with pin-point accuracy and setting up goals while also being aggressive has made a difference for the Penguins success. There's a reason why he has won three Stanley Cup rings and taken his team to the playoffs in 11 straight seasons, asserting his dominance in the Eastern Conference and NHL. Crosby's Brain and Brawn work hand-in-hand to perform so effortlessly in hockey.


Mike Trout. Trout may be the only individual on the list above who doesn't have a championship ring, however, the value he brings to his team is as unique as it gets in the MLB. Bryce Harper, Jose Altuve, Nolan Arenado, and Mookie Betts all bring close to the same value but Trout has statistically been the most valuable player since he entered the MLB in 2011. At 6'2" and 235lbs, Trout has consistently batted over .300 and hit 25+ home runs for his career while also possibly playing the best outfield defense this generation has seen. This is attributed to his natural talent, or Brawn, for baseball. Still, you won't hit over .300 and hit home runs without using your Brain. Baseball is the most mentally challenging sport because it is designed for failure. Trout's plate discipline and plate vision gives him the opportunity to hit in more hitters counts which results in better pitches to hit. Trout's aggressive, yet disciplined nature during his at bats allow him to attack first pitch fastballs or breaking balls in order to get on base. Once again, the Brain and Brawn are working together to deliver an effective result. Trout just does it better than just about everyone in the MLB. 

Tom Brady. MVP. 5 SuperBowl rings. The epitome of greatness in sport. Brady is known for his quick decision making, strong arm, and always making the big play when it matters most. His difference on the field is that he makes plays when necessary and at a pace that is unmatched by any other quarterbacks. Brady reads the defense and knows how to exploit its weaknesses, marching his team down the field and winning football games. He knows his opposition. When the ball is snapped to him, he knows where he wants to throw the ball but is prepared to make a split second change in his decision making process to still move the ball down the field. Brady's talent is great, but his Brain is what makes him so lethal to face-off against in any game. Brady's Brain is significantly used and over the course of the game gets stronger since he is garnering more experience by reading the defense series by series. It is his ability to adjust and find the most effective pass or rush that makes him the best. Once again, it is a combination of Brain and Brawn.

The Brain plays the crucially significant role over the Brawn in sport. The Brain goes through the decision making process and evaluation over a shortened period of time and once that decision is made, the Brawn takes over. The athletes with the best Brain and Brawn are the top athletes in their sport. Talent plays a significant role, but Brain and individual cognitive reception and recognition fuel the Brawn. Cognitive testing is a vital ingredient in observing how an athlete can and will perform before reaching the major league level. To maintain this level of excellence, an advancement of cognitive testing is required.

At Honsberger Physio+, we take cognitive testing to the next level with vision training. This focuses on the Brain and eyes working together simultaneously. Our Vision Performance Centre is dedicated to improve an athlete's hand-eye coordination, reaction time, attention span, and focus. In addition, biomechanics plays a key role in an athletes mobility and balance. The VPC combined with our biomechanical approach gives athletes the best opportunity to be balanced mentally and physically. This allows their Brawn to become bigger, faster, and stronger, while also strengthening their Brain and eyes to have the mental edge in their sport. Training over testing is critical here. Consistent vision training allows the brain and eyes to adapt to an environment where visual and neurocognitive skills improve through the tracking of individual responses to messages, stimuli and visuals.

It's time that athletes all around the world participate in vision training so that we can develop some of the best athletes on the planet from both a Brain and Brawn perspective. Because that's the answer. 

It's not Brain or Brawn. It's BOTH.

Chrisotpher Fafalios, Sports Performance Manager 

Interested in incorporating this into your training regimine? Would you like to see how you can provide this type of training for your team or sports organization? Email to schedule your Vision Training Demo. 


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