Previous research has proposed that cognitive functions play an essential role in sport, connecting successful athletes with greater cognitive abilities. Research has further proposed that cognitive testing can beneficial for coaches and sport clubs to integrate cognitive tests as an additional tool for scouting and for optimizing the athletic development of their players. Therefore, academics and practitioners alike are implementing EF testing batteries as an additional measure of performance. Therefore, this line of research aims to evaluate the differences between high- and low-level athletes in a variety of sports relative to their perceptual-cognitive abilities; with an emphasis on measuring executive functions.
Both cross sectional and longitudinal approaches have been employed to gain a further understanding on whether the cognitive abilities that athletes display are a result of being immersed in a high-performance environment for many years or whether these athletes are born with a natural cognitive advantage.
What you measure, gets managed.
How do ExF´s relate to sport?
The explanation of how athletes are able to navigate and act within their environment using their perceptual-cognitive abilities matches closely with how previous researchers have described ExFs being used within a sporting context (Jacobson & Matthaeus, 2014) (see more below).
How are they measured?
There are many well-established cognitive tests that have been integrated into computerized tests to measure an individual´s ExF. Many years ago, psychological tests were first used to test various psychological deficiencies in clinical populations, but are now gaining popularity in non-clinical populations. This is due to these tests having the ability to measure people are able to process information, and detect whether any individual also has an exceptional ability to process information. Afterwards, participants´ results are compared to how the perform in other aspects of their life (i.e. sport, school, overall health) to help find associations to understand how cognitive abilities relate to all aspects of our lives.
Athletes must process a lot of new information that the have to integrate with their previous experience. For example, a player must ask themselves in a split second a variety of questions. What did this player do last time we were in a similar position? How did I react then, and should I react the same way? What did the coach warm me about at half time?
Athletes are great at being adaptive to the ever-changing and unpredictable environment. This ExF helps athletes "think outside the box".
Inhibition suppresses an intended action that is not correct in the moment. For example, stopping to pass to a specific player if they suddenly become marked by a defender.
Beavan, A., Chin, V., Ryan, L. M., Spielmann, J., Mayer, J., Skorski, S., ... & Fransen, J. (2020). A Longitudinal Analysis of the Executive Functions in High-Level Soccer Players. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1(aop), 1-9.
Beavan, A., Spielmann, J., Mayer, J., Skorski, S., Meyer, T., & Fransen, J. (2020). The rise and fall of executive functions in high-level football players. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 101677.
Ehmann, P. (2019). Kognitive Funktionen im Nachwuchsfußball: eine Analyse verschiedener sportlicher Leistungsniveaus, Altersstufen und einer kontextspezifischen Aufgabe. Masterthesis at Goethe-University Frankfurt/Main. Frankfurt, Germany.
Cölsch, R. (2019). Anwendung des Wiener Testsystems (WTS), um die Exekutiven Funktionen zu erforschen und den Zusammenhang zu Fußballspezifika weiter zu untermauern. Masterthesis at Deutsche Hochschule für Prävention und Gesundheitsmanagement Saarbrücken, University of Applied Sciences.
Rosenegger, M. (2019). Testung ausgewählter Exekutivfunktionen zum Vergleich der kognitiven Leistungsfähigkeit zweier Mannschaftssportarten. Masterthesis at Deutsche Hochschule für Prävention und Gesundheitsmanagement Saarbrücken, University of Applied Sciences.
Schöneberg, J. (2019). Testung von zwei ausgewählten exekutiven Funktionen zum Vergleich der kognitiven Leistungsfähigkeit der Mannschaftssportarten Handball und Fußball. Masterthesis at Deutsche Hochschule für Prävention und Gesundheitsmanagement Saarbrücken, University of Applied Sciences.
Schächtele, B. (2019). Vergleich der exekutiven Funtionen zweier ausgewählter Berufsgruppen. Masterthesis at Deutsche Hochschule für Prävention und Gesundheitsmanagement Saarbrücken, University of Applied Sciences.