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GP Week : Issue 184
Down time seems to be the largest factor in brain training, which seems at odds with most of the sponsor demands placed on F1 drivers these days. How do you train drivers to maximize what little time they have to compose themselves? We try to organize their overall program to focus on the most critical areas in terms of need for improvement. Then we work hard to ensure that training programs are optimized for individual success and to maximise drivers’ time for training. Our focus on the brain is the way that it’s hardwired; how the electrical circuits themselves are organised. There’s three parts to the program where people often get very confused. The mind is more behavioural and conditioning and then there’s the nutritional feed. The neural feed concentrates on the hardwiring of the brain. What's the success rate correlation between the program and on track? Is there analysis done at the track? In terms of the neural feed, or psychology program, if you like, you can always draw correlations between competitive performance and training. But there are so many other factors that can influence performance on the field that you try and directly build systems that measure the training element you are working on. In this case, assess the capacity of the neural training to support an improvement in neural capacity. You mentioned that information can sometimes get lost in the “noise”. Can you explain further? When I refer to the “noise” in these signals, I mean you might measure an athlete who records very high levels and goes on to win one weekend, in which case you could say you had a direct influence on that performance. By the same token they might lose that weekend and you could say, well this stuff doesn’t work. We know that making you stronger or physically fitter can also support things such as concentration and focus and allow your mind to work more efficiently, but we haven’t yet developed a level of sophistication in our tools that can tell us exactly why. The technology we have gives us an insight into the functional capacity of the brain and we’re seeing trends that are very exciting and positive. That’s the best part about our job. You don’t need to have all the answers yet. That’s the endgame. All you have to do now is be ahead of the curve. Can you effectively train a driver or athlete who might suffer from performance anxiety to rise to the occasion during tense situations? I gather gaining control over your physiological state isn’t as simple as deep breathing techniques! The influence of cardiovascular on a driver is profound. Blood flow, endorphin release and even just a general health perspective. All these elements can have a significant impact on performance; certainly in their ability (especially during a long race) to sustain focus over longer and longer periods of time. That was a core element of the Stratos project, but with a driver where they’re constantly driving week-in week-out as well as training; they still have to articulate and communicate to the rest of their team. In that respect a good cardiovascular system can give a driver a significant advantage. We also see from positive neural transmitters a capacity to relax and a tolerate stress. Again, one answer isn’t going to be the same for everybody, but in building a fundamental driver performance program it’s just one piece of the puzzle. As performance director for Red Bull stratos and dealing with Felix Baumgartner (right) it must've been a very unique situation. What kind of experience did you draw upon for this project or was it a relatively clean slate? It was very similar system to the driver performance program. Not to take anything away from what these athletes do, but there’s some fundamental principles we know that work well under these sorts of situations. What you do try and do is attempt to craft lessons that are more robust. Whilst fitness does help, we pool lessons from driver programs, athlete programs, military personnel and business people we’ve worked with and even artists and designers. From all these groups we draw upon those which seem to have the most profoundly common connection to the skills required to those demanded for Stratos. In that way it became a two-tier program in terms of using practices we’ve had good history with in the past, then adding on skill sets from elite performers in related fields in conjunction with the data we collected in the practice jumps. I think that’s the power of our program; drawing on the relationships between so many high performance organisations. You've dealt with a number of athletes in different fields, especially the Red Bull Training Camp. What common techniques are required to train vastly different athletes? That’s the best part! We learn so much from that. We like to think that we bring a lot to the table, but in a dynamic and challenging environment, the growth and learning you get from one another – and more importantly all the elite athletes – is more profound than you can get from any text book. I’ve seen bio-feedback operated video games that are used help to help drivers deal with their emotions. How does this work? What we’ve learned from neuro-science is that the wiring of the brain is very plastic and can adapt very quickly. A lot of the research we have reviewed looks at situations where people have lost limbs or where a certain part of the brain has lost the capacity to perform a function, the brain can effectively begin to rewire itself within 24 hours to complete that task. We have a baseline of comparative data that can analyse anything that doesn’t make sense. Using that same technology we can throw a picture into the computer a certain performance characteristic associated with certain traits. Then the game is set up in such a way that when your mind replicates a similar positive neural pattern, the game reinforces you by moving for ward. So you’re not actually thinking to move the game for ward, so much as replicating the desired brainwave activity. If you lose that brainwave activity the game shuts down and you’re out. There are some things that happen that you’re not aware of and the objective is to learn from that and replicate that positive behaviour. But it’s intuitive – the more you think about the game the less it actually works. It sounds a little like the old adage of a relaxed driver is a fast driver? The beauty of this program is that we can draw data from a wide-cross section of athletes. We might only have a few drivers to play with but there’s definitely a future in this type of training. There are a lot of people doing a lot of work and there’s still a huge amount to be learnt. But just by connecting the body to the brain via this technology is just another reminder to athletes to work on every area of their performance. 23 GPWEEK.com // 23 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: >>> FEATUrE