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09-04-2012 | Psychology | Article

Sporting success requires ‘superior cognitive function’


Free abstract

MedWire News: Success in ball sports may depend on a player's level of executive function, study findings suggest.

The researchers found that elite soccer players have "superior" executive functions, such as the chain of creativity, working memory, multi-tasking, and inhibition, relative to nonplayers, and report a significant positive correlation between executive functions and the number of goals and assists a player made.

"The results from this study strongly suggest that results in cognitive function tests predict the success of ball sport players," say Predrag Petrovic (Karolinska Institutet Stockholm, Sweden) and colleagues.

Writing in PLoS ONE they explain that in ball sports like soccer there are large amounts of information for players to consider. "The successful player must constantly assess the situation, compare it to past experiences, create new possibilities, make quick decisions to action, but also quickly inhibit planned decisions."

The researchers therefore investigated whether measures of general executive function could predict the success of soccer players.

They recruited 31 male and 26 female soccer players to participate in the study. Of these, 29 (14 males and 15 females) were high division (HD) players and 28 (17 males and 11 females) were low division (LD) players.

Between June 7 and October 30 2007, all participants completed the Design Fluency (DF) test, a standardized online executive function test that measures multiprocessing processes, such as creativity, response inhibition, and cognitive flexibility, and thus simulates the executive chain of decision-making in a similar way as in a real sport situation.

Petrovic and team report that the HD players had significantly better DF scores than the LD players. This difference was observed for both men and women, they note. In addition, both HD and LD players had superior scores compared with the standard population.

When the researchers compared the DF results with the number of goals and assists a player made two seasons later they found that the test results were significantly and positively correlated with these objective measures of success.

"This study suggests that the precision in selecting the future stars should include not only judgment of physical capacity, ball control, and how well the player performs at present," write the authors. Measures of executive functions may establish if a player has the capacity to reach top levels in soccer, they say.

"Thus, the present study may change the way ball sports are viewed and analysed and how new talents are recruited," concludes the team.

By Nikki Withers

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