Brain Training Drills to Advance Your Game

Cognitive agility adds brain training to standard reactive agility exercises to help athletes play 'smarter.'

Nothing's more dangerous to the opposition than a smart athlete. When training for a particular sport, you think about what helps you be successful on the field. In most anaerobic sports, you need speed to get there first, power to produce force quickly, and agility to efficiently navigate your target. But what about the mental components that go into sports?

Mentally, athletes are constantly challenged by distractions, problems and decisions. Cognitive agility adds brain training to the standard reactive agility exercises.

Computerized brain-training programs provide math equations, task-switching problems, spatial perception exercises, and memory games for mental stimulation. In cognitive agility, we take brain training from the computer to the field by applying those elements to the last part of a change-of-direction training session. We continue it when both mind and body fatigue set in during the last 5 to 10 minutes of training, to keep the athlete engaged and train mental endurance and clarity during exhaustion.

RELATED: 3 Mental Toughness Techniques for Endurance Athletes

5 Cognitive Drill Variations

1. Computing: Set up cones in a variety of configurations and label them 1-6. Instead of calling out a single cone, have your partner cue you with a simple equation like 4 minus 2, for Cone 2. Solve the equation quickly, then sprint to the corresponding cone as fast as possible. Increase the difficulty of the equation and compete with other athletes side-by-side.

2. Sequential Memory: Set up cones in a variety of configurations and label them 1 through 6. Have your partner shout the numbers of two cones (i.e., 1 then 5). Run to those cones and return to the start after each run. Then have your partner add a cone without reminding you what the first 2 cones were (e.g., 6, meaning you run to Cones 1 and  5 and then Cone 6.) Add a cone to the sequence until you run an incorrect sequence.

3. Delayed Recall: Set up cones in a variety of configurations and label them 1 through 6. You have to remember each sequence of numbers given to you. Have your partner start with a series of numbers like "2, 3, 4," indicating you must run to these cones in order. Follow this with a sequence of different numbers like "4,6,1" and sprint in that order. Complete the drill by running to the previous sequence of cones (2,3,4). Advance the exercise by having greater gaps between the current sequence and set of numbers that must be remembered.

4. Distractions/Irrelevant Cues: Set up a ladder and have two cones about 10 yards to the right and left of one end. Follow either a verbal cue (your partner calls out "left" or "right") or a visual cue (partner points "left" or "right"). Perform footwork drills through the ladder. When you approach the end of the ladder, your partner calls out one direction but points toward the other. You have to filter out the irrelevant cue and follow the direction you were instructed to follow with an emphasis on speed.

5. Processing Speed: Set up with two different types of balls, preferably of different colors. (e.g., tennis ball and baseball) Sprint to pick up one ball first and the other ball second as fast as you can. Then, as you close your eyes, have your partner roll each ball to a different spot on the field. On "GO!" you open your eyes and sprint to the balls in the correct order as fast as you can.

Learn the secret to the Navy SEALs' mental toughness.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock