“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
First off, I hope this finds all of you safe and well. This is an unprecedented time we are facing and it can be rather alarming. I am no expert on the matter but I do know that we live in the greatest country ever known and we will survive this and, God willing, be better for it. For those of you struggling, you are in my thoughts and prayers.
With “social distancing” being the latest fad (so much cooler than “quarantining”… so yesterday), and keeping us away from paintball fields the world over and from the sport we all love, I thought it might be a good time to consider ways to improve our game from home. Well, what if you don’t have paint? What if you don’t have air? The whole physical workout routine has been done and shown countless times (and from the looks of it, several of you will be in excellent shape when this is all said and done – some will not – I see you…lol). No, I wanted to think of a way to improve your game in a different way. We are always talking about the mental aspect of the game here at Zen and you have heard me reference “watching tape” several times as well. Eventually, you can only watch so much. So let’s DO something. Let’s DO something that works the most important tool in our arsenal when it comes to our sport. Let’s work our brain.
If you have been around me even a short amount of time or read this blog just a few times, you have no doubt heard me discuss processing speed. When I talk about this, I am talking about the ability to see data, recognize/understand what that data means, and then do something. In other words, the speed it takes a person to process information and act on it. Here are some “official” definitions for those of you who like to take it to that level – “the speed at which an individual identifies, manipulates, and responds to information” or more specifically “Processing speed is the ability to identify, discriminate, integrate, make a decision about information, and to respond to visual and auditory information”.
Now, I want to make something clear here. If you struggle with processing speed on the paintball field e.g. making a read or understanding what is happening or needs to happen during a match, this does not mean you are of low intelligence. Every scientist in the world will tell you that processing speed is NOT related to intelligence. All it means is that, depending on what is happening, a determined task or response is more difficult for some. Again, all processing speed is in the context in which we are talking (paintball) is the ability to automatically process information, which means processing information quickly and without doing it consciously. The higher the processing speed the more efficient you are able to act. So, for a paintball player, at least how I have tried to use it, processing speed is the time between you hearing/seeing something to the time you understand it and respond to it.
“Energy and persistence conquer ALL things.” – Benjamin Franklin
I hope I haven’t beaten that horse too badly… okay…. Moving on.
Processing speed is best improved through experience. Getting out there and playing the game over and over again, “road mileage” as I like to call it. BUT – perhaps there is a way to work on it at home during our current environment? Perhaps…I don’t know. It’s just a theory. Or is it?
I read a lot of psychology journals and articles, mostly sports related these days, but I read other types as well. Now, my wife and I homeschool our children and my wife is quite learned (much more than I). She sends me psych articles from time to time, especially those that involve cognitive development. Obviously we want our children to have as much of an advantage as possible. So, I really stepped up my reading on cognitive psych. Cognitive Psychology is the scientific study of mental processes. Those processes would be things like memory, language, attention, problem solving, creativity, (those last two are awesome talents to have in paintball), etc.
Obviously there are methods to improving a growing, developing, young mind. It makes sense there are methods to improve our adult brains. Heck, we do it all the time! Just like an adult who decides to learn a new language, we can “train our brain” to think or process things differently when necessary. We are all capable of learning no matter how young or old. Perhaps we can learn to improve our processing speed on the paintball field while sitting at home? But how?
Video games, board games, and card games of course!
“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson
As with any cognitive training, we need consistent practice to improve and maintain the skill. So, when we can’t be on the field, perhaps we could use other means to practice and improve our processing speed. Research has suggested that playing a game that challenges a child’s cognitive recognition (this is the ability to recover stored information and compare it to information immediately in front of us) can result in functional and structural brain changes if played several times over a period of time. Their brains actually grow.
According to that same research, games that focus on rapid visual detection and rapid motor response can improve processing speed in children. Said another way, games that require a player to look and respond quickly while maintaining concentration can impact/improve the speed at which we process things. There are several studies out now that prove developing physical dexterity is linked to language and speech in children too.
A specific study of children 7-10 years old over a period of 8 weeks (led by Dr. Allyson Mackey, University of Penn) demonstrated a 30% improvement in processing-speed scores. They used board games as well as video games. The board games and video games used, if your interested were:
Board Games Video Games
- Pictureka Mario Kart
- Blink Super Monkey Ball
- Perfection Feeding Frenzy
So who is to say that these games can’t help us? They can’t hurt, can they? Why won’t Call of Duty or similar video games work to improve processing for an older generation?
But what if your power goes out! Or you’re just old school like me and enjoy these sorts of things like board games. For instance, puzzles…
A puzzle would obviously make us work on our visual processing don’t you think? Especially if we timed ourselves! Puzzles can be very useful for developing and understanding the interrelationship among shapes and visual images. Or if you have to stick with the video game approach, puzzle games such as Tetris, Candy Crush… okay I don’t know any others but you get the idea. Any game that can teach “sequential thinking skills” and/or cause and effect could be useful in our theory for developing better/ faster processing speed.
Think about it, how many hours of video games do you play a week? With the current situation in the U.S. and abroad, perhaps some board games with family? Research says that you should try to play at least four different games and shoot for 3 to 4 hours a week over 8 weeks. In order to maintain any gain or improvement to processing after the initial 8 weeks, try for 1 to 2 hours per week. Yes, you can change games as long as the game is challenging and requires the criteria mentioned earlier.
We can even take it a step further! What if we try to target a specific processing speed weakness? Whereas the research that Mackey and her team did suggested that board and card games could improve processing speed skills in kids who had average processing speed skills, they saw the greatest improvement in children with specifically defined cognitive weaknesses. So whether that is our speed of input, our speed of interpreting visual and/or verbal data, if we target a specific aspect that we may be weak on, we may see a faster improvement… does that make sense?
“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.” – Helen Keller
Challenge yourself with some of these “child” games. Make it a competition. Time yourself, set goals (how many times have we talked about that here?), try to beat your last or best time.
What other games can you think of that might help us hone processing speed? Board games, card games, video games… The key is to ensure they require one to utilize skills that demand fast processing. Something that makes you interpret or respond quickly to some form of visual or verbal que or “sensory response.”
Here is a list of specific skill sets taken directly from the Dr’s article to help you identify some games that might help:
Games that require:
- Rapid visual detection
- Rapid motor responses
- Automatic and fluent performance of cognitive tasks
- Performance under pressure to maintain focus
- Performance under pressure to maintain attention and concentration
- Speed of input and interpretation of visual information
- Speed of input and interpretation of auditory information
- Speed and efficiency of spoken language and communication
- Speed and efficiency of writing or physically completing a task
Or games that do the following:
- Become increasingly more challenging during the game
- Use competition to increase the level of challenge
- Use a timer to increase awareness of speed of information processing
- Use competition to increase awareness of speed of information processing
- Tax and adaptively challenge the speed of processing
So far, all of this is in regards to a child’s brain. How about an adult brain? Can these games help us? I don’t know… but I do know some tips to ensure that, if so, our attempts are done with the most opportunity for success:
- Get plenty of physical exercise, eat right, and get plenty of rest – I know, I know but there is a reason you ALWAYS hear health professionals talking about this. Hear me out. Cardio exercise and the right nutrition are musts for us to improve our brain and ultimately our processing speed. As a human with a brain – thinking (or in this instance processing speed) is really just electrical signals traveling across nerve cells. Your brain is made up of all of this “wiring” which is fed by the blood vessels in your brain. Well, where there is blood, there is a need for oxygen! Translation? Staying fit and getting plenty of exercise will sustain the brain and, potentially, improve your processing speed! Couple that with foods that promote and sustain brain health, this sets you up for success, yes? I’m not a nutritionist or expert on this matter! So be sure to consult who you feel necessary to do so but I have read that avocado, blueberries, and fish are a great start. And the whole sleep thing? Duh.
“ A regular cardio routine has also been linked to an increase in the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain important to learning and processing.”
- Read a book – put yourself in a state to WANT to learn or, if anything, open your mind. I like to try and learn at least one new word a week and work into my vocabulary (this week’s word was “fortuity”). The brain is a muscle that needs to be worked out. So get to flexin’!
Alright – that’s going to do it for now. Again, I’m not expert but why not give it a try. It can’t hurt!
And remember during these trying times…
Be Water my friends!
P.S. For those of you wondering about the title – It’s Latin – “quadraginta” means “forty”. It is also where the English word “quarantine” came from. Christians are currently celebrating LENT which is the 40 days before Easter. Interesting no? It was first used in Italy in 1377 to keep ships from plague-stricken countries waiting off its port for 40 days to assure that no latent cases were aboard. And now you know!