Next level recovery. Cross training the brain.
Do athletes need to cross train their brain?
We think: YES.
The countless hours athletes spend training, can be challenging. Add fatigue, a tough coach, complaining teammates, and late-night homework; workouts might quickly become a drag. Too much of this, and an athlete could turn away from sports completely. Ironically, teen athletic careers do not often end because the physical training is too hard, but rather the mental aspects drain the athlete of motivation.
This gives way to the common excuse, that high school obligations and homework become overwhelming. This may be true in some cases. But for majority of budding teens, it is the inability to properly use active cognitive restoration. Instead, they adhere to a common reactive pattern, saying that busy schedules are just too hard. In reality, most teen’s bodies and minds are actually craving and capable, to do so much more.
Traditionally it was thought, that athletes could avoid burnout with ample amount of sedentary recovery time after hard training sessions; ice, hydration, proper nutrition, and sleep, were the gold medal standards. Then along came active recovery, a practice that actually does make the body feel better sooner. And even though the athletic world has reached new levels with this discovery, it overlooks the specifics of restoring the brain or cognitive restoration; simply a fancy way of labeling active rest for the brain.
Active brain rest is like cross training the mind; it remains in use, but in a different way than you do for sport. It is truly a hidden secret of many top athletes. To prove our point, we sat down with a master of cognitive restoration, former athlete and musician, the beautiful and talented, Chaska Potter.
Chaska’s balancing brain act began well before she even knew it. Normally when children were sauntering downstairs with one eye open to get ready for school, Chaska and her siblings were already in the thick of family band practice. Yes, band practice.
Chaska’s father dreamed of having a band, and his passion became a blessing of cognitive growth and restoration for the Potter clan. And, his children benefitted from exposure to the repetition of not only the beat of music itself, but as Chaska says, the life lesson of practicing something and the feeling of accomplishment that follows. Fortunately, these morning practices eventually paid off for her.
Chaska is now a multi-talented musician set to hit the road in July 2018, to tour again, with Jason Mraz, in a ten piece band, including her bandmates of Raining Jane. Truly a fantasy turned reality, from genuine talent and dedicated hard work.
Yet, Chaska’s time was not always consumed with music. In college she often could be found, moving hastily around UCLA’s volleyball court, representing the school as a Division 1 athlete. And although her one high-school coach claimed she needed to give up singing to focus on sport, Chaska felt that might be a disservice to her overall life pursuit.
Chaska maintained a busy schedule. Her activities often required a high level of executive functioning; elite level sport, music, and academics, however she avoided complete burnout. It seems as though Chaska was able to recuperate by using her practice time, as recovery time from the other activity. Instead of spending time, like so many teens do, stressing about what to do next, Chaska had a schedule in place, with important activities to pursue.
Chaska gave us great insight on managing what she calls monkey mind, a light-hearted version of the classic attention deficit characteristics.
Music was my anchor. It kept me balanced. It made revisiting the challenges at volleyball practice the next day, more enjoyable because I had given my brain time to step away. These activities became a great way to channel my thoughts and stop the chatter in my mind.
Chaska claims her involvement in music a blessing. But this is not to demean the hard work needed for such a blessing; because grace as we know, takes grit. For instance, the time during Chaska’s 4th year at UCLA, when she tore the rotator cuff on her dominant arm. She had to choose between sitting out the year to have the injury repaired, or stepping in to help the team. And, since Chaska was a senior, this meant giving up her last year of eligibility as an NCAA student-athlete.
It was an easy decision, the team needed me! Although I was injured, I could provide leadership, experience, and support my team by being on the court. I had to think outside myself, and see the bigger picture. It wasn’t the perfect senior year I had imagined, but I was so happy I could be of service.
Chaska says the ability to call on her mix-handedness, using her opposite arm to help the team, was due to her father’s advice to practice doing things with both hands. Whether this truly aids in neuro-plasticity is an on-going branch of research, but in Chaska’s case, the familiarity with her opposite arm, enabled her the ability to adapt under pressure.
This does not mean if you are an athlete you must become a professional musician to reap the benefits of cognitive restoration. But something like the MT Box to practice a little beat while you take a seat, may be fun. The same type of restful stimulation can be done with any fresh, personally relaxing activity.
Our message to you, athletes (and parents) is to push yourself a little outside your comfort zone. There are so many benefits to using your brain in more ways than you do in a common day. For example, dancing; the combination of the rhythm, moving within a group, and the social interaction, not only kicks the feel-good endorphins into high gear, but may prolong aging brain issues. For athletes, a comparative coping activity, could aid in bouncing back from a tough workout, in preparation for the next day. So it is safe to say, the athlete that knows how to work hard and play hard, will benefit short-term by lasting longer in sport, and long term by living a healthier, less stressed life.
As we can see, from Chaska’s success it was not removing an activity that helped her handle pressure, it was using the two, to remain balanced.
Take away: Upon feeling overwhelmed, instead of quitting, think of an activity you enjoy and can help your sport indirectly. Try adding something first. When Centennials are asked about their secret to a long life, they often claim “keep moving!” Physical and educational activities can aid in extending cerebral growth that can help athletes see the bigger picture, rather than the repetitive single track, of one type of practice.
So many athletes feel they are only an athlete, and may become broken by not having a specific opportunity in sport. It is important for them to feel as though they are a person first, who may possess wonderful athletic talent, as well as other abilities. Because then, one’s whole being is worth so much more than just the talent. And it is not the level of success, but rather the work put into the activity that continues to develop one’s being.