Liverpool FC’s Brain Games are Just the Beginning Of A Neuroscience Revolution

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC’s manager, highlighted the benefits of an unusual training approach earlier in the month.

After winning a penalty shootout 11-10 the manager thanked the club’s partnership with neuro11 to get players in the right mindset for spot kicks.

He said that “all of the players were excited about the idea” and that it was about getting specific players in the right mindset to do the things you do on the pitch. All gets measured. They are neuroscientists, and it’s an incredibly interesting and important thing to us. It’s a new chapter.

Liverpool may have gained from neurological analysis of their players, but Sara Cordeiro, a Portugal elite female youth player, was doing something even more innovative.

SC Mirandela’s football club player scored two free kicks in as many matches after she had practiced them at a desk with wires attached to her head the morning before.

Cordeiro used a simulation that looked like a video game to instruct her avatar to kick the ball in the upper corner. She didn’t even have to move a muscle.

The system i-BrainTech was developed by Konstantin Sonkin, an Israeli neuroscientist. It trains the brain, not the body. A FIFA-sponsored research study is being conducted to determine the effects of fatigue on decision-making by youth soccer players.

I had an exclusive conversation with the players who took part in this pioneering research to discover if the future of soccer was all neurological.

Concentration

Cordeiro said that it was a different experience. “I felt that concentration level. It was very different.” I took the test the morning before the game, and in the afternoon I scored from a free kick just like it was on [iBrainTech]’s game. [The next week] I did it again on Friday night, and scored another goal with a free kick that was also exactly the same as it was on Saturday.

SC Mirandela’s player explained that iBrainTech practice required a different kind of focus than grabbing a bag full of balls and hammering on a wall. Attention to small details was essential. She found that she was able to focus differently after entering this mindspace the night before and the morning of the match.

“On the iBrainTech, I had to be focused and concentrated on power and accuracy. She said, “If I lose my concentration, I miss it,” adding that in the game, she felt the same. I had to focus on power and accuracy to score the goal.

Margarida Sa and Sara Cordeiro, her team-mate, were not always convinced about the technology’s benefits. They were initially skeptical when Silvio Carvalho, technical director at AF Braganca (club SC Mirandela) showed up to tell them that they would need to apply a strange gel to their heads before wires were attached to them.

“The researchers used chemical in my hair, and it didn’t suit me.” Margarida Sa stated, “I was strange.” Margarida Sa added that she was unhappy when asked to do it. It would be an interesting experience, I thought.

Sa struggled initially to adjust to the technology which focuses on set pieces and drills involving long passing. But she eventually found that she was able to improve both with the iBrainTech system and in her actual soccer.

She said that while it was initially strange, she did not score many goals. However, over the six weeks of the project, I made significant improvements in my [iBrainTech] game as well as in my football.

It helped her have better spatial awareness when pitching. She felt more confident when deciding whether to shoot, or pass.

Silvio Carvalho stated that this was exactly what the research study was looking to discover.

He said that they were trying to show the impact this type of practice can make on decision making at this stage. “They aren’t running, but they are focused on hitting the ball and focusing on the target. They don’t see the square and shoot the ball like they do in training. They use [iBrainTech] to think before they pass, shoot, or cross the ball. Although they aren’t running, they do mental exercises.

Next steps

Still, evidence is being collected that this type training can have a direct effect on a player’s performance. Margarida Sa and Sara Cordeiro may have felt that the program helped them score free kicks or pass to their teammates at crucial times, but this doesn’t necessarily prove it did.

This is an initial study that will be part of many others to determine if brain training can improve real-world performance. However, top clubs are already looking into the possibility of using the technology. i-BrainTech is said to have held talks with Paris Saint Germain and Barcelona, as well as other clubs lower down the pyramid.

Sara Cordeiro believes that everyone should use these methods to improve.

She said that every player should use it, and that the more difficult the league was, the better. It will increase focus and improve results if everyone uses it.

Liverpool is certain that the brain’s power can win them trophies.

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