A Longitudinal Analysis of the Executive Functions in High-Level Soccer Players

in Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
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  • 1 Saarland University
  • | 2 University of Technology
  • | 3 German Football Association
  • | 4 University of Melbourne
  • | 5 University of New South Wales
  • | 6 University of Technology Sydney
  • | 7 Harvard University
  • | 8 TSG 1899 Hoffenheim
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Introduction: Assessments of executive functions (EFs) with varying levels of perceptual information or action fidelity are common talent-diagnostic tools in soccer, yet their validity still has to be established. Therefore, a longitudinal development of EFs in high-level players to understand their relationship with increased exposure to training is required. Methods: A total of 304 high-performing male youth soccer players (10–21 years old) in Germany were assessed across three seasons on various sport-specific and non-sport-specific cognitive functioning assessments. Results: The posterior means (90% highest posterior density) of random slopes indicated that both abilities predominantly developed between 10 and 15 years of age. A plateau was apparent for domain-specific abilities during adolescence, whereas domain-generic abilities improved into young adulthood. Conclusion: The developmental trajectories of soccer players’ EFs follow the general populations’ despite long-term exposure to soccer-specific training and game play. This brings into question the relationship between high-level experience and EFs and renders including EFs in talent identification questionable.

Beavan, Skorski, and Meyer are with the Inst. of Sports and Preventive Medicine, Saarland University, Saarbrücken, Germany. Beavan and Fransen are with the Sport and Exercise Discipline Group, Faculty of Health, and Ryan, the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, NSW, Australia. Beavan is also with DFB-Akademie (Deutscher Fußball-Bund), German Football Association, Frankfurt, Germany. Chin and Ryan are with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia. Chin is also with the School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia. Ryan also is with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA. Spielmann and Mayer are with the TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, Zuzenhausen, Germany.

Beavan (adam.beavan@uni-saarland.de) is corresponding author.

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