Understanding the Role of Executive Functions in Child Development

Child contemplating while looking at a soccer ball, representing executive functions in development.

Our journey of imparting knowledge starts from elementary to high school and extends to the football field, aiming to support children in their growth. But is this inundation of information always beneficial?

Read more: Understanding the Role of Executive Functions in Child Development

The Contemporary Landscape

We live in an age where the flood of information is relentless. Thanks to platforms like social media, every waking moment is filled with a barrage of data. This consistent stream of knowledge propels our daily evolution. Educators, parents, and coaches invest time in imparting this knowledge, hoping it will shape a child’s behavior. However, mere knowledge isn’t the magic potion. It’s crucial to apply this knowledge practically. Therefore, understanding the key influencing factors becomes essential for those guiding the next generation.

Research by Unnithan sheds light on the multifaceted nature of soccer talent. This article zooms into perceptual-cognitive skills and personality, highlighting the indispensable role of executive functions, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, in task execution.

Decoding Behavior through Executive Functions

Research correlates weak executive functions with disorders like anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues. For instance, an athlete who consistently argues with the referee or struggles with disappointments might be grappling with emotion regulation issues due to executive function challenges.

Executive Functions in Sports

Swedish researcher Vestberg pioneers the study of executive functions in sports. He sought to discern the significant differences between professional and amateur soccer players concerning executive functions. Remarkably, high-level soccer players (both male and female) outperformed their lower-level counterparts in executive tests. Moreover, both groups outshined the standard population.

Dutch researcher Lot Verburgh delved into brain functions and football performance among elite youth footballers, focusing on Motor Inhibition, Attention, and Visual Working Memory. Her findings spotlighted a notable difference in motor inhibition between the two groups.

The Modern Training Approach

Coaches, often unintentionally, hone the executive functions of young players. In recent times, there’s been a surge in encouraging players’ self-regulation. The introduction of game principles, requiring players to critically assess situations and collaborate, fosters the development of various executive functions.

A notable method aligning closely with human control functions is Deliberate Play. Bas van Baar, trainer of NEC/FCOSS JO13, champions this approach, emphasizing its potential in developing personality traits alongside soccer skills.

The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has also endorsed small-sided games, reminiscent of traditional street football. Legendary coach Rinus Michels considered street football the bedrock of soccer success, stressing its role in fostering executive skills among youth.

Opportunities Ahead

Understanding a child’s behavior through the lens of executive functions presents immense opportunities for both amateur and professional trainers. The plethora of scientific tests mapping the executive system can be a goldmine for coaches, providing a roadmap for focused training. Vestberg’s advice resonates here: future success might be predicted based on executive function skills, urging clubs to consider these alongside psychological and physiological traits.

This article aims to illuminate crucial cognitive processes, empowering trainers to better assist children in enhancing their executive functions, ultimately fostering greater autonomy both on and off the field.


  1. Ellis and the brain: about the brain, behavior & education – J. Jolles
  2. The child brain: nourish young children into smart and happy individuals – John Medina-Judith Hermus
  3. Smart, but… help children exploit their talents by strengthening their executive functions – Peg Dawson-Richard Guare-Wouter Scheen.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top