Scientists believe they have discovered the psychological workings behind ‘game intelligence’ in elite soccer players. By measuring a player’s executive functions — the cognitive ability to deal with sudden problems — researchers from the Karolinska Institutet say they may be able to predict how good a top-notch soccer player will become in the future.
It is well known that physical ability and ball sense are not enough to become a soccer star. Game intelligence — the ability to ‘read’ the play, to be in the right place at the right time, and steal goals — is often regarded as a ‘magical’ ability, something that is impossible to measure.
However, game intelligence is hardly mystical, say scientists at Karolinska Institutet, and it can be understood from a scientific perspective. Instead, it requires strong executive functions — the ability to be spontaneously creative, to see new solutions to problems, to quickly change tactics and to revise previous behavior that did not work.
“Our brains have specific systems that process information in just this manner, and we have validated methods within cognitive research to measure how well the executive functions work in an individual,” says Dr. Predrag Petrovic at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience.
Petrovic and his team tested certain executive functions in 57 elite soccer players from Allsvenskan (the highest Swedish league) and in Division 1 (the league under Allsvenskan).
The scientists found that soccer players in both groups performed much better in tests of executive functions than the general population.
They also found that players in Allsvenskan scored much higher than players in Division 1.
The researchers then compared these results with the performance of the players on the field. They followed several of the soccer players for several years and recorded the number of goals and the number of assists each player made.
In this way, each player was given points related to his or her performance on the field.
A clear association appeared between the executive function test results and the number of points earned on the soccer field (when adjusted for such factors as game position and age).
“We can imagine a situation in which cognitive tests of this type become a tool to develop new, successful soccer players. We need to study whether it is also possible to improve the executive functions through training, such that the improvement is expressed on the field.
“But there is probably a hereditary component, and a component that can be developed by training,” says Torbjörn Vestberg, psychologist and a member of the research group that carried out the study.
The study is published in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE.
Source: Karolinska Institutet