THIS week I began the sixth week of my BSc of Physiotherapy degree. With the current global situation causing major disruptions, the majority of our second year of the course has thus far been conducted online.
With this learning style there are advantages as well as disadvantages, but it is the climate we are living in, so we make it work to the best of our ability.
The online lectures are accompanied by some practical face-to-face classes where we learn the various assessments and techniques required to treat our future patients effectively.
One of the modules that we have been learning about this semester has been Neurological Rehabilitation. This module is centred around neurological conditions such as stroke, Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis as well as traumatic brain injuries that all cause various neurological symptoms. Within the module we learn what are the pathologies for each of these conditions, how they affect our patients, and we are then taught how we can manage these conditions as physiotherapists.
One of the subjects that we learned about early on was neuroplasticity. This was taught in the early weeks of the semester and has a role to player in both the understanding and the treatment/management of these conditions. Neuroplasticity deals with changes within the neural networks of the brain through growth and reorganisation.
These changes include the creation of new neural connections by individual neurons which results in the remapping of the pathways within the brain. Examples of neuroplasticity are circuit/network changes arising from environmental factors (travelling), practice (sports/musical instruments), psychological stress (tests/exams) as well as learning a new ability (swimming/cycling). This means that activity-based plasticity can have significant implications for healthy development, learning, memory, and recovery from brain damage/injury.
From a goalkeeping point of view, anything that will increase the number of neurons within the white matter of the brain will only be beneficial for the decision making of any goalkeeper. With the large amounts of intrinsic and extrinsic stimuli received by a goalkeeper in-game, anything that will increase the brains ability to process these stimuli more efficiently will ultimately improve the performance of the goalkeeper.
For me, the best way to achieve this improvement is by learning new skills and abilities that will benefit you personally but that will also improve your goalkeeping performance as well.
I have always professed to any ‘keepers or coaches that you need to constantly look to improve yourself whether it be in a physical, mental or spiritual sense. You should always be looking for ways to better what you already have.
With this in mind I have began to learn new skills that will also allow me to improve my goalkeeping performance both on and off the field of play. Below are some of the new abilities I have been learning/teaching myself and how they benefit my goalkeeping.
Studying an academic degree vastly expands my learning which improves cognitive function as well as memory.
It is also a physiotherapy degree which teaches me detailed knowledge of how our bodies work, how they become dysfunctional as well as teaching techniques on how to amend these dysfunctions.
Knowing this allows me to better understand how my body works and allows me to improve my goalkeeping ability more effectively as well as providing me with a better understanding of how to achieve optimal recovery between games and training sessions.
Currently, my son Lochlainn, attends the Irish medium school in Keady. Next year my youngest daughter, Scarlett, will be joining him. With having two children becoming multilingual, I have decided to relearn the Irish language alongside them so I can both communicate with them through the medium of Irish and assist them with their school workload as best I can.
That said, numerous studies have shown that people who are multilingual have a better cognitive function and flexibilities than those who speak only one language. Multilinguals have been found to have longer attention spans, stronger organisation and analysation skills, and a better theory of mind than monolinguals.
Every one of these skills are essential for optimal performance as a goalkeeper.
On the field of play I have begun to put more of my efforts into improving my ability to strike the ball with my left foot.
Now that we have entered into the off-season or ‘Growth’ season as I like to call it, I can afford to focus heavily on this area of my game.
Again, learning this new ability will allow me to become more effective during restarts giving me another offensive weapon while also improving the neuroplasticity within the white matter in my brain therefore improving my overall cognitive function.
The last new skill I have begun to teach myself has come about directly from learning about neuroplasticity during my course.
This new skill incorporates hand-eye coordination, hand speed, correlated rhythm as well as anticipation to interchangeable stimuli.
This new skill is… juggling.
Yes JUGGLING!! A study by the University of Oxford found that people who learned how to juggle increased the amount of white matter within their parietal lobe. This is the area of the brain that connects how we see to how we move.
In goalkeeping terms this is the part of the brain that deals with our reactions.
By increasing the white matter within the parietal lobe, it suggests an increase in the speed at which you can react to different stimulus.
I began learning how to juggle two weeks ago and have been making great progress. Like the other skills, the more I practice or use the skill, the better or more fluid the skill becomes.
With what we have been learning within the physiotherapy course about how learning new skills can improve the parts of the brain that are essential for optimal goalkeeping performance, I have and would inspire others to look for ways to encourage this neuroplasticity within themselves.