Biofeedback and Sports

NeXus 10 unit for biofeedback

Biofeedback and neurofeedback are well known for health and wellness applications but also provide great opportunities in the search for higher performance in sports.

Professionally administered biofeedback is used for example by high-level soccer clubs in Italy, England and Spain as well as by ice hockey teams in Canada - and the Olympic squads from North America, Europe, Asia and South Africa. 

Sport at the elite level is demanding of both mental and physical skills. Whilst the physical skills are often obvious, the mental skills such as self-talk, imagery, goal setting, energy management, confidence and focus are just as important.  Biofeedback provides an opportunity to monitor psychophysiological signals during performance, allow the athlete to see how they respond to the demands placed upon then and then train to modify (enhance) their behaviour.

Biofeedback practitioners involved in sport have evolved the protocols they now use from those developed for medical and psychological purposes.  In some cases it is not easy to find out exactly what they do due to the secrecy they feel is necessary to maintain "an edge".  This also means that some of the protocols at work have not been scrutinised for effectiveness in the way that would be expected of a medical application. Nevertheless, the growth in interest alone makes this a field of growing popularity.

There are many places where we believe biofeedback and neurofeedback can be helpful in a sports training regime. For example:-

  • In physical training - strength and conditioning, injury rehabilitation, setting training zones for heart rate, muscle and CNS fatigue assessment 
  • Sports skills: Determining effective versus ineffective body responses (muscle, heart rate, respiration state, brain states etc), fine tuning of skills, allowing an athlete to "find the zone"
  • Mental training: Elite athletes use imagery, goal setting, thought control, arousal management, anxiety management. How can the psychophysiological responses of the elite be adopted by others?
  • Team dynamic: How are team members reacting to the behaviour and performance of their team mates, coaches and competitors.

A modern biofeedback system (such as provided by the NeXus range) can allow simultaneous high fidelity measurement of many physiological signals.  These can give an indication of the instantaneous state of an individuals autonomic nervous system or central nervous system.  Biofeedback is then like a mirror in which the individual can see how they are responding to the demand for performance. With a correctly designed protocol higher performance using biofeedback is not an impossible dream.

Recommended Reading:
"Sports" - Chapter 34 in Biofeedback - A practitioners guide (4th Edition)
Edited by Mark S Schwartz and Frank Andrasik. 2016

"Human Potential - Exploring techniques used to enhance human performance" by David Vernon. 2009
Routledge Press