Photo: Messi v Ronaldo and their Brains
Ever wondered what makes Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi so good at intercepting the ball?
By studying brain scans, Brunel University researchers have discovered that highly-skilled footballers are able to activate more areas of their brain than novices when they see an opponent heading towards them, making them better able to anticipate their moves. The research, published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, found that experienced players seem to have developed a ‘checking’ system that suppresses the urge to react instinctively, making them less likely to fall for deceptive feints.
The research, which looks to discover the neural basis for cognitive superiority, involved 39 participants ranging from semi-professional footballers to novices. The participants lay in an MRI scanner whilst watching clips of a junior international-level player dribbling a ball toward them.
The results also showed evidence of stronger activation of the Mirror Neuron System (MNS) when predicting an opponent’s actions. The MNS is active not only when performing an action within our personal repertoire, but also when viewing that same action performed by others. Hence, there was clear evidence of ‘recognition’ of the opponents’ movements in the more skilled performers.
It is hoped that this research will lead to greater insight into how professional sports people come to develop their abilities over time and will eventually be used to help improve and speed up training techniques.