The relationship of cognitive functions with physical skills, game intelligence, game time and its training in elite soccer players

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Investigations of high-performance environments evaluate the qualities that make the best
the best. One of these environments is elite sport representing one of the biggest challenges
for the human brain as it demands a range of multifaceted aspects like the information
processing of the cognitive functions. In this thesis, the relationship of these cognitive
functions to high-performance in elite sport and especially soccer was investigated in a metaanalysis
with 18 independent effect sizes based on 1410 athletes, and four subsequent studies
with 388 elite soccer players in total. The endeavor of the present thesis has been
operationalized and categorized into the five domains: cognition-expertise, cognition-motor,
cognition-cognition, cognition-success and cognition-training. In agreement with previous
studies but also as a novel expansion of them, several important associations among the
domains became evident. The cognition-expertise analysis showed a small to medium-sized
superiority of elite and expert athletes, compared to non-elite and non-expert athletes with
noticeable influences of the elite versus expert definition. This general cognitive superiority
was further analyzed in the other cognition domains using soccer as an example for an elite
team sport where meaningful but specific relationships of certain cognitive functions and
motor skills are evident. Specifically, the cognition-motor domain shows that working memory
has the most consistent connection to the maximal anaerobic parameter of sprint and soccerspecific
activities with the ball (e.g. dribbling) with small to large effect sizes. Similarly,
cognitive flexibility is small to moderately related to the maximal anaerobic parameters of
sprint and drop jump performance, both across all age groups under consideration (12-34
years of age). These cognition-motor associations are accompanied by cognition-cognition
relations as evident in the small to moderately sized relationship between working memory,
cognitive flexibility and coach-rated game intelligence also across all tested age groups.
Furthermore, the cognition-success analysis found small to large relationships of all executive
functions except for inhibition with game time along with the physical skills sprint and
repeated intense exercise ability. Contrary, effect sizes of the relation to injury incidences are
negligibly small apart from sprint and general endurance performance.
Consequently, the cognition-training domain aimed to evaluate training effects of the
cognitive functions related to important aspects of all four domains. A multiple-object tracking
tool was used for this and showed large task-specific and near-transfer effects to the trained
iv
skill but negligibly small further-transfer effects on other visual and executive functions.
Implications of the findings for theory as well as for practice in sport are discussed.
The overall goal of this thesis is to shed light on the mechanisms by which cognitive functions
are connected to high-performance in sport, especially soccer. Both previous, as well as the
present studies, show the crucial relevance of certain cognitive functions in all performance
domains altogether hinting at a key role of the central nervous system in steering and
controlling performance in all areas.
Original languageGerman
Place of PublicationKöln
PublisherDeutsche Sporthochschule Köln
Number of pages204
Publication statusPublished - 2022

ID: 6761863

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