The Intricate Interplay of Working Memory and Elite Football Performance

The setup for the working memory field test

In numerous scientific studies, working memory is frequently cited as a pivotal cognitive function. But can its impact be measured accurately on the football field? Delving into the intricate balance between mental faculties and professional football prowess provides an enlightening perspective.

Read more: The Intricate Interplay of Working Memory and Elite Football Performance

Understanding Working Memory in Detail:

Working memory is primarily responsible for retaining and processing information – a critical component of cognitive functioning (Gathercole, 2013). Baddeley (2003) introduced a model delineating verbal working memory and visual-spatial working memory. These two types coalesce in a central executive region. Here, the primary tasks involve storing, processing, and regulating information (Baddeley, 1992). While verbal working memory engages in retaining and processing words, numbers, and syllables, visual memory deals with shapes, colors, and their locations (Smidts & Huizinga, 2011).

Working Memory and Football Performance:

Professional footballers are constantly evaluating situations during matches, comparing them with past experiences, devising creative strategies, making swift decisions, and exercising restraint (Vestberg et al., 2012). Research by Vestberg et al., (2012) revealed that executive functions, notably working memory, are vital for footballers, even predicting future success. Remarkably, those playing at elite levels exhibited superior executive functions compared to their counterparts in lower leagues. Additionally, Dutch researcher Verburgh (2015) identified that top football talents significantly outperformed in motor inhibition. However, in areas like reaction speed and working memory, professional footballers scored above average, but the difference wasn’t statistically significant.

A Closer Look at Young Football Talents:

In an insightful study by Hans Erik Scharfen and Daniel Memmert (2019), 19 young talents from a German professional football academy (average age: 12.72, SD=0.45) were evaluated. Their cognitive abilities were assessed using various neuropsychological tests like Attention Window Task, Working Memory Span Test, Perceptual Load Test, and The Motion Object Tracking Test. Additionally, multiple motor performance tests were administered. A positive correlation emerged between the Attention Window Task and a player’s dribbling skills. Similarly, correlations were observed between working memory tasks and dribbling, ball control, and juggling. This correlation can be attributed to footballers needing to process multifaceted information, including surroundings, opponents, and the ball’s position during matches.

Testing Working Memory:

There are several methods to evaluate working memory. A key assessment is the WISC. The WISC-V-NL utilizes numerical sequences and image sequences. This test requires cognitive flexibility and mental alertness, focusing on registering information, brief concentrated attention, auditory discrimination, and repetition (Flanagan & Kaufman, 2009; Groth-Marnat, 2009; Reynolds, 1997; Sattler, 2008b).

Football and Physical Demands:

Modern football places immense demands on players’ physiological and technical abilities. Short-distance sprints (5-10 meters) are frequent, often requiring abrupt twists and turns. Players must swiftly repeat these sprints, with or without ball possession (Huijgen, 2010).

Dual Task Concept in Sports:

In 2011, Tim Garbett studied dual-task performance in Rugby. This concept implies that athletes perform cognitive and motor tasks simultaneously. This reveals the automation level of fundamental movements, crucial for formulating game strategies.

The Working Memory Field Test:

Consolidating the above research, a unique test has been devised, divided into auditory and visual sections. It primarily focuses on reverse numerical sequences. This test seeks to merge neuropsychological examinations with field tests to understand working memory in conjunction with sprint and technical skills, especially in young professional footballers. Notably, the validity of this test is currently under thorough assessment by Sportbrein.


Several studies hint at the significance of working memory for professional footballers. Still, there’s a void in terms of testing tools that combine football skills and working memory. The Working Memory Field Test aims to bridge this gap, with more insights awaited on its outcomes.


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