Japanese scientists have identified a surprising quality shared by the world’s best footballers. Here it is

Japanese scientists have identified a surprising quality shared by the world’s best footballers. Here it is
Japanese scientists have identified a surprising quality shared by the world’s best footballers. Here it is

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi during a match between Barcelona and Juventus at Camp Nou in Barcelona, ​​December 8, 2020.

Atlantico: A study from Osaka University analyzed soccer players of different levels and revealed that the best players were not only faster at identifying which passes to make, but also at calculating which passes to avoid. In other words, great champions are more able to curb the temptation to make a bad move. How is it possible ?

Aurore Malet Karas: We have known very well for almost a century now that the nervous system is plastic. This means that when there is behavioral learning, this will modify the reactions of neurons. It’s exactly the same as explaining that a pianist or musician will have better control of their hands than someone who has no control over an instrument. This phenomenon can be explained by both training and talent. There is a selection of the best. There are always both in biology. There is always both innate and acquired. This is true in training and in sports selections, but also at school, where we will select those who learn the best, those who learn the fastest, those who progress the fastest. And training, which also reinforces this superiority, explains why the differences can be so great between professional athletes and amateur athletes.

Is this knowledge relating to brain plasticity new? How can we explain that individuals manage to eliminate bad options more easily?

I didn’t see anything really new. Moreover, we realize that this phenomenon, which we call executive control, is not well enough known to the general public. However, the regions linked to decision-making, whose activity we measure in this study, are already well known to scientists. In cognitive science, we know that making a decision is not as simple as we think. In fact, making a decision means at the same time seeing all the decisions that are possible, choosing the right one and inhibiting the others. In short: to choose is to give up. The example that I always use in class: sometimes, we think that a child cannot learn when he cannot exclude bad decisions. Once again, these differences are explained by innate phenomena but also repeated training.

Does the result of this study only apply to sport?

Above all, this highlights the importance of training, obviously. The fact that training improves performance is an old notion. Nothing really new about this. Second, it is important to remain cautious about announcement effects. Just as there is greenwashing, there is neurowashing, with sometimes questionable funding. We use the results of neuroscience to create new training programs, while existing methods are already effective. In France, for example, we have worked a lot on this subject, particularly in thematic teaching. School programs have been adapted to the abilities of children for several years. Thus, neuroscience has already had a significant impact on educational methods. Perhaps this impact is not yet sufficiently visible in the sporting field. Sometimes the sports world seems focused primarily on improving physical abilities. It is certainly true that specific approaches exist. What I do know is that many athletes are now using visualization techniques, sometimes even through virtual reality devices, to train. This type of practice has been around for a long time. It’s a bit like Mr. Jourdain writing prose without knowing it. In fact, they are working on their cognitive decision-making skills. This is why I think we need to be vigilant, because many things have already been tried. Neuroscience is not necessary to understand that putting yourself in similar conditions, focusing on aspects like visualization and cognition, can help athletes. Thus, in certain team sports, reviewing matches and analyzing them constitutes cognitive training. In reality, this is something that is already being done. Neuroscience only confirms this.

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