VISTA — Looking down the face of mega ramp wasn’t the issue for Elliot Sloan. In fact, he’s dropped in to so many ramps over his skateboarding career that it’s seemingly become second nature for him to roll into one, launch himself through the air and pull off a kind of death-defying maneuver.
The issue for Sloan was, well, Sloan.
The successful skateboarder, who just won another gold medal at the X Games in Austin, Texas in the Best Vert Trick category, admitted he was his own worst enemy when it came to dealing with the mental pressures of competition.
There’s no way to practice for that. The pressure, that at any moment, Sloan would choke — blowing his run and then having to wait for the next competition to redeem himself.
“That was something that’s always been a challenge for me, is dealing with the pressure of it (competition),” Sloan, the Vista resident said.
It was a few years ago when he decided to start working on the mental side of skateboarding.
Using a headset device from SenseLabs, a San Francisco-based technology company, Sloan began his “brain training.”
The brain training, Sloan said, has since helped him to “zone out” — almost like a meditation. That’s the closest he could get in describing what the mental training does for him. “It really just puts me in a calm, relaxed state in contests,” he said.
“It’s changing the way that the brain functions,” said Dr. Leslie Sherlin, Ph.D., co-founder and chief science officer of SenseLabs. “There is a thinking component to it, but it’s unique.”
When thinking or concentrating the brain is responding in a particular way.
What SenseLabs is helping to do, Sherlin explained, is shape the way that the brain responds by showing the user just how their brain reacts.
For Sloan, it’s all about the thought process — one that he believes will calm him down.
“He (Sloan) might be imagining a vacation or he might be trying to just focus on something else to distract himself before the competition to keep from getting those nerves,” Sherlin said. “But in reality, we don’t know if that’s actually changing his physiology. He’s just trying these techniques to see what he can do to improve that anxiety level,” he added.
What makes this training different from say a meditation practice, is that meditation is asking you to subjectively sit there and experience something and to practice doing that, said Sherlin. “And that can be a very effective technique for people to have some time set aside for internal reflection,” he said.
But he added that for some people that can be very challenging, not very rewarding or just boring.
The company, Sherlin said, turned their attentions towards high performance athletes because they’re the ones that, from a mental standpoint, put themselves under the highest pressure, the biggest stressors.
SenseLabs has also worked with the military using the headset.
Still, there are some athletes that perceive a negative association for seeking out help with the mental side of things, but a shift in that way of thinking does seem to be happening now.
“It’s absolutely changing,” Sherlin said. “There’s an increased awareness and recognition of the mental components of performance with athletes.”
It used to be thought that only people who had problems were seeking help, according to Sherlin. “Now, training the brain is becoming as common place as training the body,” he said.
The technology in this fitness monitoring industry is evolving very rapidly.
“Whatever we can imagine the next five years to be, the only thing that we know for sure is that it’s going to be faster and it’s going to be much broader and much bigger than we expect,” said Sherlin.
What he does see in the future is more technology around sensor headset training and the awareness of the brain and the brain performance’s role in the overall outcomes in people’s lives, whether they’re a stay at home mom, a student or a corporate executive or a high performance athlete.
“We’ve kind of reached this capacity for physical performance and the brain is the next frontier, and learning how to control it and push that boundary,” Sherlin said.