Exercise and Wellness

Top Athletes Train Their Brains, Too

A team football huddle.
Choose the health content that's right for you, and get it delivered right in your inbox

At AdventHealth, we champion whole health — body, mind and spirit — for all. And when it comes to pro athletes, there’s a case for “whole fitness,” too.

The benefits of physical strength and agility for players are a no-brainer. But things like mental sharpness, decision making and emotional regulation are skills that can sometimes be overlooked.

A well-rounded athlete is both physically and mentally tough. In order to reach elite-level performance, they must train their brains as much as they train their bodies.

Sports science research shows perceptual-cognitive abilities play a major role in separating elite athletes from amateurs. Aside from sprints, squats and stretches, here are some of the things pros work on to train for the game.


Specifically peripheral vision, which helps us take in a wide view of what’s happening around us, even when our attention is focused on a singular thing. This is especially important on a field with many moving objects — and an incoming tackle just moments away.

Decision Making

Vision also helps athletes make important decisions about what their body will do next. It helps a quarterback gauge whether to throw 20 or 40 yards down the field. Quick and accurate decision-making can be the difference between a player who gets taken down or one who outmaneuvers the competition.


Watching game footage can help a player evaluate his performance and make improvements. But there’s also value in looking inward and imaging what scenarios you may face.

"The objective is to create such a lifelike experience that your body believes that it could be real," said Dr. Michael Gervais, a sports psychologist who has worked with NFL teams, Olympians, UFC fighters and more.

Regular visualization practice is key. The idea is not to try to predict the future, but rather to prepare your mind to react.

Reaction Time

The ability to assess the actions of others and react quickly is essential in team sports.

Companies like Axon Sports are using technology to create interactive experiences that challenge athletes to refine what they refer to as the “athletic brain” — one that is more efficient and accurate at game time.

Focus and Concentration

Playing at practice is one thing, but playing a game is another. When an athlete is under pressure to perform with the added noise and distractions of fans and the opposing team, it’s critical that he can ignore input and identify what’s important.

Emotional Regulation

Emotional self-regulation refers to the processes by which you modify the type, quality, time course and intensity of your emotions. Whether getting booed or praised, a pro athlete must stay consistent and calm to keep his head in the game. Emotional regulation can even regulate your heart rate, keeping adrenaline in check.

Partnering for Whole Health

As the exclusive hospital of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, AdventHealth is proud to care for players, fans and our entire community. We’re constantly finding new ways to help you feel whole and perform your best. Learn more about our exciting partnership with the Bucs here.

Recent Blogs

An older woman talking on the phone outdoors.
Living Life to the Fullest With Lupus
A woman points to arm to show a doctor.
Off the Radar: Unexpected Skin Cancer Spots to Check
Easy Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat Veggies
A Senior Man Checks His Smart Watch as he Takes a Break from His Walk
When is the Best Time of Day to Exercise?
Signs of Hormonal Imbalance in Women
View More Articles