Understanding the Evolution of Perceptual-Cognitive Skills in Youth Soccer

Young Soccer Player Analyzing Game

In the competitive world of youth soccer, a player’s ability to process dynamic and complex visual scenes is crucial.

Read more: Understanding the Evolution of Perceptual-Cognitive Skills in Youth Soccer

A comprehensive study, “Perceptual-cognitive performance of youth soccer players in a 360°-environment – Differences between age groups and performance levels,” led by Paul Ehmann and his team, published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Volume 59, 2022, sheds light on this vital aspect.

The Crucial Role of Perceptual-Cognitive Skills

In high-level youth soccer, perceptual-cognitive skills are paramount. These skills involve accurately and rapidly processing visual scenes that constantly change during a game. The study aimed to explore how these skills vary among youth soccer players of different age groups and performance levels in a dynamic 360° environment.

Methodology of the Study

The study’s approach was meticulous. It involved 292 elite and sub-elite youth soccer players from age groups U12 to U23. The players underwent a 360°-multiple object tracking task to assess their perceptual-cognitive abilities. The researchers conducted an 8 × 2 (age group x performance level) analysis of variance (ANOVA) to discern the impact of age and soccer performance level on the task.

Insightful Results

The findings were revealing. A significant main effect of age group was observed. Players in older age groups (U16, U17, U19, and U23) outperformed the youngest group (U12) in the 360°-multiple object tracking task. Interestingly, no significant age-related differences were noted from the U16 age group onwards. Furthermore, a significant effect of soccer performance level was seen, favoring elite players. Significant differences between elite and sub-elite players within the same age group emerged only in the highest age groups U19 and U23.

Conclusions and Implications

The study concludes that perceptual-cognitive performance improves with age in a dynamic 360° environment among highly talented youth soccer players. Moreover, elite youth players demonstrate superior perceptual-cognitive abilities, especially in the higher age groups. These findings have profound implications for the scientific understanding and practical application of training young soccer talents. They emphasize the importance of developing perceptual-cognitive skills as part of talent development in soccer.

Why This Study Matters

Understanding the evolution of perceptual-cognitive skills in youth soccer players is crucial. It helps coaches and trainers tailor training programs that foster these skills from a young age. The study also highlights the need for specific training exercises that enhance players’ abilities to process complex visual scenes, a key component in soccer.

Final Thoughts

In essence, the research by Ehmann and colleagues provides valuable insights into the development of perceptual-cognitive skills in young soccer players. It underscores the importance of these skills in the overall development of a soccer player, influencing both scientific research and practical training methodologies in youth soccer.


Ehmann, P., Beavan, A., Spielmann, J., Mayer, J., Altmann, S., Ruf, L., Rohrmann, S., Irmer, J. P., & Englert, C. (2022). Perceptual-cognitive performance of youth soccer players in a 360°-environment – Differences between age groups and performance levels. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 59, 102120. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2021.102120.

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