There's been good news recently for participants of the world’s most popular sport: According to a new study in the journal PLoS ONE, soccer players are significantly smarter than, well, pretty much everyone.
When professional soccer players were tested on “executive function”—a key aspect in memory, multitasking, and creativity—they scored significantly higher than the general population. In fact, elite players belonged to the best 2 to 5 percent of the total population, says Predrag Petrovic, Ph.D., the lead researcher and professor at Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Why? Soccer players have to adapt constantly to a rapidly changing environment to perform well, says Petrovic. That’s easily translated to tests of executive functions like changing strategies and suppressing old, outdated plans, he adds.
“People assume that if you have a gifted arm or can kick a ball that you aren’t smart, you don’t need to be smart, or both,” says Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., professor at West Virginia University. “High-level sport is physically demanding and requires high-level cognitive skills.”
Here’s what you can learn from the pros:
Be a Student of Your Game
“There’s a saying in soccer: You’re either physically gifted, or a student of the game,” says Kerry Zavagnin, assistant coach for Sporting Kansas City and 11-time member of the U.S. Men’s National Team.“Someone who can read situations and think about solutions instead of always relying on the physical component is a student of the game—that’s how I played.”
So maybe you’re not the first one to finish reports in the office. Your move: A good player makes all the other players around him better, says Zavagnin. Anticipate what’s coming your way by communicating specifics, listening, observing, and learning what people like and don’t like. “The players who can take snapshots of the field and make decisions well before they receive the ball are ones with highest chance of success.”