Executive functions (ExF) are an umbrella term to describe the group of cognitive abilities that subserve goal directed behaviour. Executive functions allow us to mentally play with ideas, taking the time to think before acting impulsively, resisting temptations, and handling unexpected challenges. These essential cognitive abilities are relevant in situations that require a fast and flexible adjustment of behaviour to the changing demands of the environment and play an essential role in sport. Athletes that have higher cognitive abilities have also been linked to being more successful, supported by expert athletes having superior cognitive abilities compared to lesser-skilled athletes and non-sporting populations. Therefore, it is of interest for sporting clubs to both measure the executive functions of their athletes and investigate the best methods on how to train them effectively.
Off-pitch training tools can be used for athletes that are wanting to gain an edge on their mental performance or for players who are injured that miss out on the cognitive stimulation regular training.
Measuring executive functions can be done using computerized tests in order to unravel the mysteries of how some individuals are able to process a large amount of information and make rational decisions despite being in high pressured environments like sport.
By detecting potential indicators of muscle fatigue in football athletes such as inappropriate movement patterns and overstrained muscles, practitioners can act upon this information to implement further strategies towards injury prevention. Currently, a testing battery is being developed that observes standardized movement patterns using biomechanical software to screen athletes for indicators of physical fatigue. The aim is to use the results to adapt individual training interventions if required.
Athletes may be prone to the negative effects that mental fatigue has on their sporting performance, resulting in possible decreases in their technical and physical performance coupled with higher ratings of perceived effort feeling fatigued. Research has demonstrated that induced mental fatigue impairs soccer-specific technical, tactical and physical performance in soccer players. Travel, fixture congestion, and game-play all may contribute toward athletes being mentally fatigued, and may be intensified over the lengthy season. Therefore, it is important to measure when athletes are feeling mentally fatigue, and create solutions in order to help mitigate the effects on athletic performance.
Sport is swiftly becoming a numbers game. The difficulty is to turn big data into smart data; providing the right amount of data to make models more accurate while avoiding a ´data tsunami´. Therefore, TSG-ReserachLab have teamed up with d-Fine – an analytics company – to gather data from all aspects of a player´s performance from both in-game performance statistics and on in-house cognitive and physical assessments. This data is fed through machine learning algorithms that continuously learns from the from the data of both successful and unsuccessful athletes in an elite academy. In turn, the algorithm will help to advise on future athletes that demonstrate similar patterns of athletes to help find coaching staff understand the strengths and weaknesses of both current and prospective players.
Smart data will be used to determine what performance criteria is required to achieve excellence in a football domain. These criteria will further be used as a framework to help scout for talented players and inform best practice to help support talented youth players with their long-term transition into professional athletes.
In many domains, how cohesive a team is may explain how successful they are at completing a specific task while maintaining the needs of their group members. Appropriately, a large amount of interest has been dedicated into understanding what unites a group of individuals and allows them to consistently and successfully complete task.
Talent development is not a one-size-fits all principle. It is essential to ensure that each individual is provided the most appropriate learning environment to develop their potential in their pursuit of sporting excellence. This can be completed using a multidimensional approach to understand each individuals´ changes in their technical, physical and cognitive performances across the development from childhood towards adulthood. In sum, successful talent development programs rely on understanding each individual’s strengths and weaknesses to continuously adjust their training accordingly.