Physical capacity and coordination cannot alone predict success in team sports such as soccer. Instead, more focus has been directed towards the importance of cognitive abilities, and it has been suggested that executive functions (EF) are fundamentally important for success in soccer. However, executive functions are going through a steep development from adolescence to adulthood. Moreover, more complex EF involving manipulation of information (higher level EF) develop later than simple executive functions such as those linked to simple working memory capacity (Core EF). The link between EF and success in young soccer players is therefore not obvious. In the present study we investigated whether EF are associated with success in soccer in young elite soccer players. We performed tests measuring core EF (a demanding working memory task involving a variable n-back task; dWM) and higher level EF (Design Fluency test; DF). Color-Word Interference Test and Trail Making Test were performed on an exploratory level as they contain a linguistic element. The lower level EF test (dWM) was taken from CogStateSport computerized concussion testing and the higher level EF test (DF) was from Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System test battery (D-KEFS). In a group of young elite soccer players (n = 30; aged 12–19 years) we show that they perform better than the norm in both the dWM (+0.49 SD) and DF (+0.86 SD). Moreover, we could show that both dWM and DF correlate with the number of goals the players perform during the season. The effect was more prominent for dWM (r = 0.437) than for DF (r = 0.349), but strongest for a combined measurement (r = 0.550). The effect was still present when we controlled for intelligence, length and age in a partial correlation analysis. Thus, our study suggests that both core and higher level EF may predict success in soccer also in young players.
Autism spectrum disorders and developmental coordination disorders are both associated