Unlocking the Secrets of Young Soccer Players’ Decision-Making Skills

Explore how executive functions influence decision-making skills in young soccer players and the pivotal age for cognitive development.

In the realm of youth soccer, understanding the cognitive development of players is as vital as their physical prowess.

Read more: Unlocking the Secrets of Young Soccer Players’ Decision-Making Skills

A study, “A developmental perspective on decision making in young soccer players: The role of executive functions,” by Sinikka M. Heisler, Babett H. Lobinger, and Lisa Musculus, published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal, Volume 65, 2023, delves into this aspect.

Exploring the Cognitive Processes in Soccer

Recent trends in sports psychology have shown a growing interest in both domain-specific and domain-general cognitive processes to explain soccer player expertise. This study bridges the gap by investigating the role of executive functions in the decision-making abilities of young soccer players. It’s a significant leap, considering that these cognitive processes vary with age.

The Study’s Approach

The study analyzed 128 young soccer players, averaging 10.69 years in age. It divided them into two age groups – younger and older players – to understand the differences in cognitive development and its impact on decision-making. The methodology was innovative, employing a video-based option-generation and decision-making task alongside standardized computer-based tests to assess executive functions.

Key Findings

The results were revealing. A strong link was found between executive functions and sport-specific decision-making, with working memory playing a crucial role. Interestingly, the older group displayed better option generation and showed enhanced inhibition and cognitive flexibility compared to their younger counterparts. This suggests that around the age of 11 years, there’s a pivotal turning point in cognitive development affecting decision-making skills.

Implications for Youth Soccer Training

These insights are invaluable for coaches and trainers in youth soccer. Understanding the cognitive development stages can significantly enhance training methodologies, focusing on nurturing decision-making skills alongside physical training. It also opens up avenues for targeted cognitive training exercises, especially for working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility.

Why This Study Matters

The study by Heisler, Lobinger, and Musculus is crucial in the sports psychology landscape. It not only provides a deeper understanding of the cognitive development of young soccer players but also emphasizes the importance of integrating cognitive training in sports development programs. This can lead to the nurturing of more rounded athletes, skilled both physically and mentally.


In summary, this study offers a fresh perspective on the cognitive aspects of youth soccer training. It underscores the significance of executive functions in decision-making and reveals the crucial age for cognitive development in young soccer players. As the sports world continues to evolve, such research becomes integral in shaping future champions, not just in soccer, but in all sports.


Heisler, S. M., Lobinger, B. H., & Musculus, L. (2023). A developmental perspective on decision making in young soccer players: The role of executive functions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 65, 102362. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2022.102362.

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