Technology has been advancing at rapid rates throughout the 21st century, and the current generation of high school students is experiencing this wave of innovation being weaved into their education at rapid speeds. Marian is one of many high schools in the country to bring more stylized technology, such as iPads and 3D printers, into the classroom in order to allow for students to experience a broader range of learning both in and out of school.
While Marian is not unique in integrating school-issued iPads into the classroom, Marian is the first and only high school in the nation to bring a software known as NeuroTrainer into the athletic training room.
“NeuroTrainer is a performance enhancement system that uses virtual reality to help athletes train their brains, resulting in better performance,” Marian’s head athletic trainer Mrs. Melissa Brusnahan said.
NeuroTrainer is meant to help athletes improve key functions when competing such as hand-eye coordination, reaction time, focus and decision making. It builds such skills in a virtual reality that presents athletes with different tasks and training scenarios. This controlled, challenge exercise environment makes the training an overall enjoyable experience for the athlete.
The NeuroTrainer system was founded by Dr. Jeff Nyquist, who has been studying the human brain for the past 15 years and has tried to find new ways humans can use their brain in order to improve their quality of life. He came up with the basis of the NeuroTrainer system by combining neuroscience with technology and giving athletes the chance to experience training on a whole new level that both challenges the mind and expands cognitive abilities, thus improving quality of competition.
“We were first introduced to NeuroTrainer by Ken Moreano, who was on the athletic department staff at Creighton University when Marian’s soccer coach, Teresa DeGeorge, was a player. Ken learned about NeuroTrainer and thought it would be an excellent fit for Marian athletes. He contacted Coach DeGeorge, who contacted me,” Brusnahan said.
NeuroTrainer is loaded onto an Oculus headset, which Marian currently has five of, along with hand controllers to accompany each headset. “The software loaded on the headsets engages the user in a virtual reality game/training session lasting 10-20 minutes. After a brief training session, athletes are encouraged to train four or five times per week to see the largest gains in cognitive functioning,” Brusnahan said.
One of the students who took part in the initial NeuroTrainer trial was senior Sarah Ritterling. “The activities are meant to be based on your level, but since it was the first time we ever used it, we took a test to give a baseline. It’s fun because there’s a leaderboard and you don’t really know what activity it’s going to choose for you that day. It’s fast and challenging, but fun!” Ritterling said. The system is meant to help train the athletes’ brains and, in the long run, help improve the athletic performance of the participant.
“One task is you have to pull the trigger on the paddle as soon as you see the ball to increase your reaction time. Another is you have to catch the ball and then swipe with the opposite hand at a different ball that is coming from a different direction to also help with reaction time and decision making,” sophomore basketball player Allie Mohr said.
The NeuroTrainer system was purchased through the Marian Booster Club in January 2020, and is already being used by softball, volleyball, cross country, basketball, soccer and swimming athletes.
“I believe that NeuroTrainer will help athletes improve and become an overall [better] player in their sport. Speaking from experience, I definitely think my reaction time has gotten faster, and I have become a better athlete overall,” Mohr said.