The Relevance of Cognitive Skills in Football

The professionalization of athletics in athletes is now almost mature. Now the focus is shifted to the still diverse potentials of the brain. Joachim Löw, for example, says that there is still “infinite scope” for the development of thought and perception processes and that in the future they will have to be intensively trained in order to bring the head to top level in addition to the body. He also calls for football players, as well as chess players, to plan up to twenty moves in advance. So it’s about players being able to make decisions faster and better in game situations. Michael Löbbert, sports physician and neurologist puts it in a nutshell: “The bottom line is that you need not only sport to promote cognition, but also cognitive training to optimize athletic performance.” ( Source: RP-Online )
The term “cognition” is used in sports psychology as a collective term for the recording, processing, storage and transmission of information within sporting activities. The term thus aims at the first two points of the graphic: situational perception and analysis (perception) & mental solution (decision).

Sports science research has shown that cognitive abilities in athletes are the determining factor for excellence (Source: Williams, M.A., Davids, K., & Williams, J. (Eds.). (1999). Visual perception and action in sport. London: Routledge). Cognitive abilities are the biggest difference between professional and amateur athletes. Professional athletes recognize situations and patterns of play much faster than amateur athletes, which is crucial for anticipation in football. They recognize movement patterns of teammates, opponents and the ball and assess their processes above average and decide accordingly. They also use different search strategies. This means that players can change perceptions depending on the situation. To detect tactical patterns in 11vs11, they process different information than in micro situations of 1v1 or 3v3. You have the skills to pick up the right information, focus on it and ignore unnecessary information, such as outside calls or even bumps of the place (inhibition). ( Source: Williams, A. M., 2000 ).
In a properly perceived situation, a player may come across different possible solutions, as in the game situation shown below. He now also needs decision-making powers to perform one of the three actions. Dribbling, playing into the depth or playing outwards:

To decide, the player retrieves experiences that lie in the working memory of the brain. But what are experiences? Experiences are general, the knowledge or skills acquired through perception and learning. Also, in a game situation, it influences how often the player has already successfully performed a possible action and how these are emotionally linked to him. This, too, is stored in his working memory.

If a player makes a decision consciously, it will cause time delays because he has had to weigh decisions.
On the other hand, if a player makes decisions intuitively, i.e. unconsciously, then the stimulus processing is much faster and the player acts immediately. This is often the case when the player has experienced these situations many times and no longer has to consciously retrieve his experiences, but instinctively hits them. However, if this player gets into even more complex situations where he has less experience, the processing processes are delayed and he decides later. (Source: Miyake, Friedmann, Emerson, Witzki, Howerter & Wagner, 2000; Diamond, 2013)

Players must therefore be faced with ever new situations in which they need to quickly recognize complex relationships and act accordingly. The ability to switch mentally between different tasks is called cognitive flexibility and enables the player to quickly adapt and adapt to new requirements. The player with these skills can therefore switch between tasks in a mentally flexible and fast manner in the event of changing situations.

Cognitive abilities are therefore made up of three factors

cognitive flexibility_sich to new game situations
_Perspektive of other players
meet _Entscheidungen
Inhibition_Impulse control
_Umgang with errors
_Aufmerksamkeit to relevant information
Working memory_sich rules
_sich commands
_strategisch think and act

Source: Walk et. al, Science, Practice, Funding Examples 2013

Dr. Peter Görlich from TSG Hoffenheim speaks of the fact that the difference between an 18-year-old NLZ player and a professional is hardly physical today, but young players are up to 40% more likely to make wrong decisions in game situations than the professionals. That is why it is so important to improve the function of perception. (Source: Görlich, TSG Hoffenheim, own study,
Most of the thought processes are taken unconsciously and automatically in football, as many situations have been trained for years. According to Prof. Dr. Jan Mayer, it is important that conscious thinking, which is much more strenuous and takes longer, is implemented more quickly in the future. (Source: Mayer, The training of executive functions is therefore given a special importance. However, Prof. Jocelyn Faubert and Lee Sidebottom from the Université de Montréal note in their article for the DFB-Akademie that there are so far few training tools that trainers can use. (Source: Prof. Faubert, Sidebottom, 2019). We were able to change this with RESWITCH!

“The game is getting faster and faster, the rooms are getting smaller and smaller. Who acts fastest under this time pressure? Who has solutions at their disposal? That is the future. Cognitive areas, that must be trained in the U-teams”

Joachim Löw


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