They run faster than you. Kick harder than you. And now think better than you. New research shows that elite soccer players excel in mental abilities, outperforming both lower-division players and the general public. Previous studies have shown that expert sports players are better off the field at many activities, including recognizing patterns, using information from their peripheral vision and evaluating probabilities. In a new study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, Swedish researchers attempted to determine whether mental abilities like executive function could predict a soccer player’s success on the field. Executive function includes activities such as working memory—used when you make a phone call or tie your shoes. It’s also related to creativity and multi-tasking. All of these are skills that might affect a player’s performance. Researchers tested the cognitive abilities of players from Sweden’s national division soccer league, and compared them to scores for the general public. Elite players—the highest division—did better on the tests than both the lower division players and the public. The study also showed that the players’ performance on mental functioning tests could be used to predict later success on the soccer field, as seen in the larger numbers of goals and assists. It’s unclear, however, whether playing soccer enhances cognitive abilities, or elite players succeed because they have better working memories and multi-tasking skills. Still, this research could potentially be used to screen players to identify the next top stars.
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