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Step Your Game Intelligence Up

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For the first time, neuroscientists have found a link between general cognitive abilities and sports success. Swedish researchers concluded that soccer players who possess the ability to process information faster and make quick decisions have a leg up on the competition. The New York Times recently reported on this discovery:

The ability is called game intelligence, and it’s “very, very fundamental to the way we make decisions,” said an author of the new study, Predrag Petrovic, a neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. “It’s a way of quickly working with information and making decisions about the environment.”

Dr. Petrovic and his colleagues discuss their findings in the journal PLoS One.

The researchers measured executive function using a standardized test called D-KEFS, which assesses skills in problem solving, creativity and rule making. The highest scores went to soccer players from Sweden’s most elite league, followed by players from a lower division. Nonplayers who were tested finished behind both groups of players. The differences were significant, Dr. Petrovic said. Elite players performed in the top 2 percent when compared with the general population.

The researchers tracked some of the players for two seasons, and found that those with higher test scores had more goals and assists.

When in the middle of a heated game on the field or court, our brains are accomplishing the ultimate in multitasking. Moving, anticipating, strategizing, reacting, and performing requires an enormous amount of brain activity, and the athletes who can process information faster often win.

You hear about game intelligence in post-game interviews all the time. Of course it’s not referred to in such a scientific manner, but because the athletes’ brains are processing so fast, they often acknowledge their ability to slow down the game, see the field, and make big plays.

So what are the next steps for improving game intelligence?

"We can imagine a situation in which cognitive tests of this type become a tool to develop new, successful soccer players,” says Torbjörn Vestberg, a psychologist and member of the research group that carried out the study. “We need to study whether it is also possible to improve the executive functions through training, such that the improvement is expressed on the field. But there is probably a hereditary component, and a component that can be developed by training."

Cognitive training tools are already being developed based on these foundational discoveries to help athletes of all ages gain an edge over the competition.

Dan Peterson reports on sports performance research for Axon Sports, an Elite Performance Partner of Athletes’ Performance. Axon develops cutting edge tools that assess and train the athletic brain. Follow Axon Sports on Twitter and Facebook.

Tags: Sports Performance, Soccer, Focus

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