April 12, 2012
Executive Functions Key For Elite Football Players

In the sport called soccer in America and football almost everywhere else high executive brain function is key to elite football player skill.

Measuring what are known as 'executive functions', which reflect the cognitive ability to deal with sudden problems, may make it possible to predict how good an elite football player will become in the future. This has been shown by a new study from Karolinska Institutet. Scientists believe for the first time that they have found the scientific key to what has previously been described as 'game intelligence' in successful football players.

Those with greater ability to read the game and be in the right place have higher executive function.

It has long been known that physical ability and ball sense are not enough to become really good at football. A third vital component has often been mentioned: game intelligence, which is the ability to 'read' the play, to be always in the right place at the right time, and steal goals. Many people have regarded game intelligence to be almost a magical ability, something that is impossible to measure.

The scientists at Karolinska Institutet, however, claim that game intelligence is hardly mystical, and that it can be understood from a scientific perspective. It is, rather, an example of something that cognitive scientists call executive functions, which encompass the ability to be immediately creative, to be able to see new solutions to problems, to change tactics rapidly and to revise previous behaviour that has proved not to work.

Higher division players have higher scores on average for executive function as compared to lower division players and they both had higher function than the population they came from.

Predrag Petrovic and his colleagues report in one study, to be published in the on-line scientific journal PLoS ONE, tests of certain executive functions in football players in Allsvenskan (the highest Swedish league) and in Division 1 (the league under Allsvenskan), a total of 57 elite footballers. The scientists found that football players in both groups performed much better in tests of executive functions than the general population. And they found that players in Allsvenskan achieved much better results in these tests than players in Division 1.

With the great flood of genetic data that has come as a consequence of an orders of magnitude drop in DNA sequencing costs we are probably within at most 5 years of identification of the genetic variations that account for much of the differences in executive function. So I expect in about the same time frame genetic tests for potential to make it as an elite footballer. Ditto for fighter pilots, concert pianists, and other cognitively demanding yet physical occupations.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2012 April 12 10:17 PM  Brain Intelligence

Michael L said at April 14, 2012 6:48 AM:

what I like about this story is that they are trying to get a clear understanding of just which specific parameter, or form of mental activity, is relevant and need to be optimized. A good contrast to "turtles, I mean, g / IQ, all the way down" attitude. IQ as an important root cause of the specific talents is all nice and good, but it's interesting to see and study the more immediate relevant factors involved.

That being said, I think that nowadays IQ tests have the advantage in being less corrupt. Once you start doing relevant specific task testing, next thing you know some political lobby will start redefining just which specific tasks are "relevant" enough for your situation. Like maybe the ability to carry wounded people out of burning buildings is not relevant enough for prospective female firefighters and stuff. By contrast a general ability test like IQ, strength etc cannot really be gamed and corrupted; it can only be thrown out in entirety, which is what many enemies of all that is good and decent are of course always bent on accomplishing.

ziel said at April 14, 2012 10:03 AM:

game intelligence, which is the ability to 'read' the play, to be always in the right place at the right time...

So true - this is a characteristic that I always lacked, and found so frustrating when others exhibited it. "How could he possibly know that the ball would rebound over there!!" was a constant refrain of mine during playground play.

Nanonymous said at April 14, 2012 1:34 PM:

Maybe. But the claim is worthless without a blind test. When they can test bunch of players and sort them into better and worse players merely based on the testing - that's when I will be very impressed.

Phillep Harding said at April 15, 2012 6:14 PM:

"The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton".

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