How Playing Soccer Rewires and Improves Your Brain

Sep 20, 2022

Soccer is a sport that requires constant demand for cognitive skills and executive function because the dynamic environment of the game defines the player’s decision-making.

The brain controls different parts and functions of the body, including spatial recognition and body coordination. These functions come into play when you engage in sports like soccer.

Additionally, executive functions such as high-speed routine, situation simulation under time pressure, speed agility routine, and small side games may help improve one’s decision-making skills.

How does soccer benefit your cognitive function? How does the brain function when a soccer player makes decisions? Does the process for this function differ from the process when people think?

This article discusses the benefits of soccer, namely, how it can help improve a person’s cognitive function. It will also examine how soccer players’ brain activity patterns affect their decision-making processes and how soccer-specific training can make them more efficient.

How Soccer Helps Improve Your Cognitive Skills

Soccer is a sport that does not only involve kicking the ball into the net. The game is also a thrilling display of the brain’s adaptability to its environment.

One study involving 15 youth soccer players showed that an individual’s working memory capacity is positively related to ball juggling, dribbling, and ball control.

Other football-specific technical skills such as sprinting, shooting, and changing direction may also be associated with other cognitive functions, such as attention window, perceptual load, and multiple object tracking.

These results suggest that an individual’s cognitive skills positively correlate with sports-specific motor skills, especially in soccer.

Cortical Benefits of Playing Soccer

Another factor that makes soccer a fitting activity to help rewire the brain and redefine the cerebral cortex is that soccer players are limited by one simple rule: they cannot touch the ball.

This rule takes away the evolutionary advantage that humans have developed over millions of years. Hands are essential to your life, and many daily activities involve using these body parts.

Peek into an average human’s brain’s inner workings. You’ll see that hands are immensely overrepresented compared to other body parts.

For example, placing your hand on a flat surface and lifting your middle finger is relatively easy. However, doing the same with the middle toe of your foot may be more challenging.

Although both hands and feet have good musculature to accomplish these tasks, lifting the middle toe is more challenging. This limitation is because the middle toe lacks the neural representation in the brain regions controlling the feet.

Thus, a sport where you’re unable to use your hands already has a significant drawback. Fortunately, all other players, except for the goalkeeper, share the same handicap during the game.

In this case, soccer allows you to think with your feet rather than your hands.

The relationship between soccer conditioning and neural processing

Soccer training usually focuses on tactics, technique earning, and conditional skills. Nowadays, however, researchers and soccer trainers have shifted their attention to cognitive function.

Thus, the cognitive approach to soccer conditioning is becoming more focused on promoting high cognitive function and not only excellent condition skills.

Results of one study suggested that a soccer player’s dribbling performance positively correlates with the diagonal attention window. This outcome indicates that athletes who have a broader attention window may have advanced dribbling skills.

Furthermore, this finding implies that having a wider attention window may enhance the player’s skills for highly demanding motor tasks. These players may perceive more optical stimuli in their visual attention window.

In other words, this connection may enable players to perform early reactions in the sensorimotor system, leading to higher performance efficiency.

For example, a soccer player dribbling the ball must also keep an eye on their teammates and opponents. In this case, a broader attention window may be beneficial for avoiding contact with opponents and dribbling in places already covered by teammates.

Brain Activity Patterns in Decision-Making

To determine the patterns in brain activity when making decisions, scientists in one study presented video clips of a soccer scene to research participants. The researchers instructed these participants to think of an obvious or creative move that would lead to a goal.

The results showed strong brain activation in trials that required thinking of obvious moves compared to trials requiring creative moves.

Activations were primarily left‐lateralized (specialized in the brain’s left hemisphere) and involved the cuneus, middle temporal gyrus, and the Rolandic operculum. These areas support multimodal input processes from various sensory, motor, and perceptual sources.

Meanwhile, higher trait creative potential was associated with substantial activation differences between obvious and creative conditions.

These findings suggest that processing multiple information from the given soccer scenario becomes increasingly important when there is an increase in soccer-specific creative task performance.

Overall, this study suggested that soccer‐specific creativity tasks may help modulate activation levels in the brain regions supporting the following:

  • Visual and motor imagery
  • Semantic information processing
  • Sensorimotor and somatosensory information processing and integration

To know more about how soccer training can help with brain improvement, consult a neuroscientist. These experts specialize in the brain’s impact on your behavior and cognitive functions.

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