How to Train the Brain: Cognitive Training in Lacrosse

PHOTO COURTESY OF TEMPLE ATHLETICS

Temple women's lacrosse players use virtual reality as an alternate means of training.


This article appears in the March 2020 edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don’t get the mag? Head to USLacrosse.org to subscribe.

Bonnie Rosen has always been interested in finding a training method that extends beyond the lacrosse field. That pursuit has taken her beyond the restraints of physical training in its entirety.

The Temple women’s lacrosse coach uses virtual reality technology as an alternative way to train her team, part of an innovative wave of cognitive exercising that flexes muscles oft-forgotten about — in the brain.

“The benefit to a virtual training system is for anyone who is injured, or if we’re dealing with a physical limitation and we don’t want to get our team too tired,” Rosen said. “Putting someone in a safe, virtual environment where there are mistakes no one can see and you can learn something, I think that’s still a really good use of it, too.”

Rosen said the Owls fundraised to purchase 10 Oculus Go headsets last January, then purchased one newer model — the Oculus Quest — more recently. The initial “workouts” lasted 15-20 minutes and happened three times per week.

Temple uses NeuroTrainer, a neuroscience-based training app on Oculus, that turns games into cognitive training sessions.

Rosen, who is passionate about cognitive training and researches its merits constantly, said there’s no proof just yet that VR tech improves athletes. There are ancillary benefits, though.

“I don’t know if I can say if there’s that payoff,” Rosen said. “One of our goalkeepers, she was really committed to it last year. I don’t know that she saw the results from what she did in the NeuroTrainer to on the field, but she definitely learned about herself.”

The struggle, Rosen said, is that it’s nearly impossible for coaches to know what’s going through an athlete’s mind or where the athlete’s eyes are positioned at any given time. That’s the next step, she thinks.







Nicole Morris, the owner of SportsSight Dynamic Vision Training in Houston, Texas, is a national trainer in the US Lacrosse Coach Development Program who holds a Level 3 certification. She uses Reflexion, the world’s first portable neuro-fitness service, as a means of training an athlete’s brain.

“We now have the technology, and now it’s affordable,” Morris said. “We can assess with high-speed cameras and computers how the eyes are moving — if they’re moving together; how fast they’re moving. We can calculate the time it takes for you to get a cue and then do it. How long it takes for you to process.”

Reflexion, featured at the US Lacrosse Convention in Philadelphia, uses lightboard technology and an app that can monitor performance. Morris said the training sessions last just 8-10 minutes, and there’s little to no recovery. She said it can help lacrosse players see shooting lanes before they open and help goalkeepers with their reaction times. It also is proven to help with reading speed and comprehension.

“You want to be able to beat your defender,” Morris said. “Dodging, you can spend all the time in the world teaching the mechanics, but the two mistakes that happen are that you do it at the wrong time or the wrong distance away from the defender. That’s all judgment.”

Another company in this space, FITLIGHT, “allows the user to enhance their existing training protocols by adding cognitive loads to it,” director of sales Rob Bouw said. “Combining the visual and auditive stimuli that the FITLIGHT Trainer offers to your lacrosse training allows you to train your decision-making process by making your brain (prefrontal cortex) more efficient.”

FITLIGHT is a wireless reaction training tool that uses LED lights and a tablet controller.

The lights act as targets that users must deactivate during a training session, which sends data back to the tablet to be analyzed. The LED discs are small enough to be taken anywhere.

“Your brain and your vision are very much intertwined,” Morris said. “We are teaching focus, concentration, executive function and mental organizational skills.”

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