Executive functioning in highly talented soccer players

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Abstract

Executive functions might be important for successful performance in sports, particularly in team sports requiring quick anticipation and adaptation to continuously changing situations in the field. The executive functions motor inhibition, attention and visuospatial working memory were examined in highly talented soccer players. Eighty-four highly talented youth soccer players (mean age 11.9), and forty-two age-matched amateur soccer players (mean age 11.8) in the age range 8 to 16 years performed a Stop Signal task (motor inhibition), the Attention Network Test (alerting, orienting, and executive attention) and a visuospatial working memory task. The highly talented soccer players followed the talent development program of the youth academy of a professional soccer club and played at the highest national soccer competition for their age. The amateur soccer players played at a regular soccer club in the same geographical region as the highly talented soccer players and play in a regular regional soccer competition. Group differences were tested using analyses of variance. The highly talented group showed superior motor inhibition as measured by stop signal reaction time (SSRT) on the Stop Signal task and a larger alerting effect on the Attention Network Test, indicating an enhanced ability to attain and maintain an alert state. No group differences were found for orienting and executive attention and visuospatial working memory. A logistic regression model with group (highly talented or amateur) as dependent variable and executive function measures that significantly distinguished between groups as predictors showed that these measures differentiated highly talented soccer players from amateur soccer players with 89% accuracy. Highly talented youth soccer players outperform youth amateur players on suppressing ongoing motor responses and on the ability to attain and maintain an alert state; both may be essential for success in soccer. © 2014 Verburgh et al.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalPLoS ONE
Volume2014
Issue number9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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