Josh Freedland is trying to teach me to be Tom Brady. Or, at least, to think like him.
I’m wearing 3D glasses, staring at a big screen TV at the Marblehead Fitness Center. There are a dozen little animated basketballs on the screen, two of them blue, getting ready to move. When Freedland hits the start button, the two blue balls will change to orange, blending with the others, then they’ll all start moving in different directions around the screen, angling past, behind or bouncing off of the others.
After several seconds of dancing, the balls stop and each is assigned a number, and Josh asks for the numbers of the two balls that used to be blue – as if I possess some magical ability to differentiate them from the others. The first few times, to my surprise, I do pretty well, but then he increases the speed and the number of balls that I’m expected to track, and my performance drops. But given the chance to move progressively through his training, “You’ll be surprised how quickly you can get good at it,” said Freedland.
The intellectual training this software offers is designed to raise the performance of athletes, who learn to track the animated basketballs while also performing some other task – like dribbling two real basketballs at once, each at a different speed. As they get better at automatically knowing where the dancing balls on the screen are, they’re getting their minds accustomed to the challenge of being aware of multiple information streams simultaneously, an ability that makes great performers, like Tom Brady, better than the rest.
Brady is among the quickest passers in the NFL, releasing the ball within about two seconds, on average, from the start of each play. He’s got to know, on some intuitive level, where every defensive player is on the field – even while dealing with his primary problem – tracking his receivers as a crowd of muscle-bound monsters conspire to crush him.
“You see a lot of athletes who can be number one in the weight room but don’t have the cognitive skills to contribute,” offered Freedland, who said sports are becoming more complex all the time. “Look at Brady. He’s not the most athletic guy, but he’s got the mental part and that’s made him one of the most dominant performers ever in the NFL.”
The Brady approach isn’t only desirable for serious athletes, however. Consider the challenge of recovering from some sort of brain injury, resisting the progressive effects of dementia, or improving your casual golf or card playing skills during retirement years. Freedland said his training improves focus, comprehension, and short-term memory for anyone, whatever their goals may be.
“Look at driving a car, being able to process dynamic scenarios,” he explained. “When you’re behind the wheel at rush hour, you have people crossing the street, you have to deal with bike riders, cars pulling in from the side of the road, people opening car doors.” So, as you age and your mental processing starts to lose its edge, stated Freedland, “This training helps you process lots of information and to move confidently through the space with heightened awareness.”
Much has been written about Brady’s performance this season at age 37, with large credit going to a man named Alex Guerrero, known as Brady’s “body coach.” Guerrero is said to “re-educate” injured muscles so they continue to work like healthy ones, keeping Brady performing like a younger athlete. But there can be little doubt that Brady’s unusual cognitive abilities – his heightened awareness of what transpires on the field – is one of the factors that keeps him operating at such a high level despite the effects of aging.
“There isn’t anyone who couldn’t benefit from this training,” said Freedland. “All ages and applications.”
Freedland is a rookie, at business, at least. He was captain of the Marblehead High School football team in 2010, then went on to Bates College where he continued to play football. “I got a really bad concussion my junior year. So I did my senior thesis on concussions, and presented my research at a regional conference on sports psychology,” said Freedland. He chatted with a keynote speaker at the conference, and learned about the software that Freedland would soon license in order to start his business – Brain & Body Performance on Bessom Street.
“The first few times you come in, you’re just sitting down trying to get used to the process,” said Freedland. “As you get better, I have you stand up, do some balancing drills, increasing the cognitive load and the distraction as we increase the speed at which the balls are moving on the screen.”
Freedland has packages available that make it affordable – about $45 a session – to think seriously about using his training to enhance your golf game, your card playing skills, or ability to concentrate while reading. An idea that becomes more intriguing as our society – like Tom Brady – gets older.