Quick decisions in soccer enhanced by brain’s ability to suppress actions

Skilled players show stronger inhibition processes when electing not to pass the ball

To pass or not to pass, that is the question faced by soccer players the world over in every match. It might be unsurprising that higher skilled players exhibit better execution of actions than lower skilled ones, but now an Osaka Metropolitan University-led research team has evidence that the neural process to suppress actions also plays an important role.

Research Center for Urban Health and Sports Assistant Professor Takahiro Matsutake and colleagues conducted an experiment to see how three levels of soccer players perform when faced with the same tasks.

The researchers recruited 14 collegiate soccer players, with half of them highly skilled, and seven graduate students who did not have formal soccer training. All 21 subjects were men. As one part of the experiment, a series of photographs showing different arrangements of two defenders and three offensive teammates from a first-person perspective was displayed. The participants had to push a foot switch button if a pass downfield between two defenders was possible.

The reaction time was significantly shorter in the higher skilled group than in the novice group, and variability was small in the higher skilled group. Furthermore, electroencephalographs revealed the neural waveforms that showed stronger processing of inhibition, which restrains a motor response, in higher skilled players.

“The results of this research will help advance our understanding of the perception, cognition, and behavior of soccer players,” Professor Matsutake enthused. “In the future, we will examine whether training concerned with response inhibition improves player performance and aim to establish effective training methods.”

The findings were published in Brain Sciences.

Conflict of interests

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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Published: 18 Apr 2024

Contact details:

Rina Matsuki

3-3-138 Sugimoto, Sumiyoshi-ku,
Osaka 558-8585 JAPAN

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Journal: Brain Sciences
Title: Fast and Stable Responses during Decision Making Require Strong Inhibitory Processes in Soccer Players
DOI: 10.3390/brainsci14030199
Author(s): Takahiro Matsutake, Hiroki Nakata, Genta Matsuo, Takayuki Natsuhara, Kisho Zippo, Kouki Watanabe, Takayuki Sugo
Publication date: 22 February 2024
URL: https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci14030199

Funding information:

This research was funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Grant-in-Aid for Early-Career Scientists, no. 22K17725.