Neuroscience has gained ground as an ally in preparing athletes in Brazil and around the world, although some parts of the sports community still have uncertainties about the effectiveness of some methods and resistance.
Soccer, volleyball teams, and the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB) are examples of those who are already using science to study how the brain works and its role in human behavior.
On the other hand, companies and self-employed professionals such as neurologists, psychologists and sports educators are disseminating technologies that assess an athlete’s cognitive performance and, for example, estimate their level of concentration for decision making.
The hand of Gabriel Vaccari (24) from Campinas / Renata, one of the main forces in the men’s volleyball super league, approves some of the activities proposed in the team’s training. Among them, Senapteks with special glasses move around the square.
Equipped with liquid crystal lenses, the goggles partially or completely block the athlete’s view while performing basics such as reception and passing.
“Training with glasses stimulates peripheral vision. The compromised visual information helps us improve game reading and train anticipation, ”says Vaccari, who is expecting a call for the Tokyo Games.
The technical coordinator of the Campinas team, André Heller, former volleyball player and Olympic champion at the Athens 2004 games, is an avid neuroscientist. He joined the São Paulo team in early 2010, at the end of his career, and learned about the work of Larissa Zink, a sports educator who began to incorporate technology into the daily life of the club.
With the support of neurologist Paula Azevedo, Heller and Zink founded Neuroesporte with training and distance learning for those who want to teach the techniques. “We used to think the only way to get quality was to train to the point of exhaustion. There are now resources that we can use to achieve high performance faster, ”says Heller.
Starting in March, Sesi was to incorporate performance and cognitive assessment techniques in its sports science reference center for 22 sports. The priority will be to apply technologies such as cognitive skills assessment in high-performance athletes.
Club trainers and psychologists are trained in using devices from Sensorial Sports, a startup in Ribeirão Preto. One of them is able to use virtual reality glasses to monitor the levels of decision making, attention, reaction time and peripheral vision.
“We believe that because of the balance between the modalities, the cognitive problem is a difference in order to get better results. The models for physical preparation, technical and tactical training are equivalent, ”says Fabiano Teixeira, Head of the Reference Center for Sports Science at Sesi.
A group of researchers led by Professor Alexandre Moreira, professor at the School of Physical Education at the University of São Paulo (EEFF-USP), has just completed studies on the consequences of using transcranial direct current stimulation (ETCC).
The technique used on 12 players on the Red Bull U-20 soccer team is to connect two electrodes to the athlete’s scalp. They transmit low-intensity electrical currents and reshape areas of the brain that are responsible for wellbeing, breath control, and heart rate.
According to Moreira, ETCC can be a promising tool to accelerate the recovery process of athletes after exertion in training or competition. “These results show how the science of sport can be more systematically and regularly incorporated into the daily lives of athletes,” said the professor at USP.
There were no reports of serious side effects in the 12 players. Three of them reported that the stimulation sessions improved their performance in the field.
At Corinthians, the doctor Taline Santos da Costa studied the technique when it was used after the games and also the next day with female footballers. “The goal is to reduce the effects of post-game fatigue and recover faster, which has a positive impact on athletic performance,” he says.
Currently, Red Bull and Corinthians have no plans to systematically incorporate ETCC into their routine. “Football doesn’t have an exact science. On the field, these are very heterogeneous characteristics that, for example, enable the weaker to win, “says Sandro Orlandelli, Red Bull football coordinator.” We try to obey science in a very simple way, not the result-based mechanisms. “
For Aline Wolff, a psychologist at the COB (Olympic Committee of Brazil), neuroscience was offered “to save the harvest”. She points out that some methods are lacking in scientific knowledge, especially among high-performance athletes.
“As in decision-making, technology can contribute with details. There are important training units such as neurofeedback, but they are not for everyone because every athlete has their own individuality, ”says Wolff.
Neurofeedback became known after the Brazilian Felipe Wu won a silver medal in sport shooting at the 2016 Rio Games, a sport that requires a very high level of concentration. The technique consists of connecting an electroencephalography device to the athlete’s forehead and using software to map his or her brain reactions.