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University secures £47k to develop biofeedback technology

DrDavidShearer.jpg

Sport Psychologists at the University of South Wales have secured funding worth £47,000 to develop technologies which will enhance the performance of elite athletes at Glasgow 2014.

The funding from the Welsh Government’s Academic Expertise for Business (A4B) programme will allow experts at the University to tailor biofeedback equipment and training to ensure the maximum performance of Welsh athletes at high profile sports events such as this year’s Commonwealth Games and future Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Dr David Shearer, pictured, who is leading the project at the University said: “Biofeedback is an arousal awareness intervention used in health, clinical and performance settings, to help users develop control of their emotional states, by providing immediate visual feedback of their physiological status. This project aims to address specific shortcomings in the current technology that limits it application in sport, and deliver tangible performance benefits to the Welsh athletes involved in the project.”

The team at the University is working with Netherland based Mind Media who manufacture biofeedback equipment that can measure up to 32 psychophysiological variables. Mind Media’s system allows for biofeedback in real-time, conducted in the environment of interest, for example elite rifle shooters can be assessed while in training at the firing range.

Economy Minister Edwina Hart said: “This is a good example of how our Academic Expertise for Business programme is supporting collaboration at an international level and helping to commercialise the expertise within academia. It also has the added bonus of helping our athletes to achieve peak performance.”

The Welsh Elite Performance Sports Innovation Network (WEPSIN; an existing A4B Knowledge Exchange Project) and Sport Wales’ sport psychologists have identified biofeedback as a key strategy for preparing athletes for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, later this year. They have also identified that current available biofeedback systems do not provide a complete solution for the sports needs in terms of the methods of feedback and the available peripheral measures.

Dr Shearer explained: “To gain maximum benefit from biofeedback training it should be provided in real time, within the athletic environment, not a laboratory, and individualised to match the performance requirements of that athlete.

“Most academic research and existing data on biofeedback is conducted in laboratory settings, or with feedback provided retrospectively post-performance. Also biofeedback training often utilises feedback provided in a non-athlete friendly manner.

“These laboratory setting are far removed from the sporting arena and do not consider individual differences in feedback preference and the most pertinent psychophysiological measure for that individual.”

The concept of creating bespoke feedback methods that suits a sports/individuals needs and the inclusion of other peripheral measures and software are concepts in biofeedback yet to be proven, but they have the potential to add considerable value to biofeedback applications in sport, health and medical domains.

Dr Shearer said: “We will develop innovative approaches that allow coaches and psychologists to simulate the pressure of high-level competition and train athletes to become more aware of their current emotional response and develop better emotional control.”

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