Brawn and brains might not be so different, according to a new study on the intellectual prowess of elite soccer players.
Swedish neuroscientist Dr. Predrag Petrovic recently tested the executive brain functions of professional soccer players. Strong executive brain functions are essential to achieving personal goals, and have a lot to do with memory, attention span, creativity, and time management. According to Petrovic, these abilities are “very, very fundamental to the way we make decisions. It’s a way of quickly working with information and making decisions about the environment.”
Petrovic and his team tested 57 male and female players in all. Half played in Sweden’s most prestigious professional league, while the other half played in minor leagues. The resulting scores showed that minor league players tested in the top 5 percent of the general population, while elite players tested in the top 2 percent. Furthermore, the players who scored the highest also had the most goals and assists.
“Game intelligence is about being able to read a play and acting quickly on that,” Dr. Petrovic explained. “So it seems that the better player you are, the higher you score, basically.”
Using this model, Petrovic claims it’s possible to predict an athlete’s future statistical performance. But are great athletes born with higher executive brain functioning, or can it be practiced and cultivated?
“Our hypothesis is that it’s both,” Dr. Petrovic told the New York Times. “You can’t become a good player if you don’t have strong executive functions, but at the same time you can always improve executive function if you train.”
Image: Soccer Forward, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from bobrpics’s photostream.