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Bend it like Beckham

March 24, 2016

The Lomonosov Moscow State University psychologists found out how a level of footballers' play can be improved, when not only physical training, but also individual perspective and behavioral peculiarities of the players are considered. The outcomes of the research were presented at the International Congress of Sciences and Football «Image, Multimedia & New Technologies», published in Proceedings of the International Congress of Sciences and Football: Image, Multimedia & New Technologies.

The Lomonosov Moscow State University scientists described the results of the observations on how the players' ability to concentrate on the game changes throughout a season. The researches focused on such parameters as attention, short-term memory, and reaction time. Basing on the gained data, psychologists, doctors and trainers would be able to structure the training process with maximum efficiency.

In March 2016 researches of many countries gathered in the French town Valenciennes to share the experience of scientific observations in a football sphere. Participation in such events is particularly important for Russia: soon Russian national team will have a chance to compete for the title of European football champions, and in 2018 -- to play on their home field at the European championship.

Sports psychologist Alyona Grushko, postgraduate student of the psychology faculty, MSU, cast light to the details of the study, the results of which were presented at the congress. Two football teams were invited to participate in the experiments, one consisting of professional players, the other - of semiprofessionals. Focusing particularly on the peculiarities of attention, memory and reaction, scientists also never missed collecting data on the players' physical condition.

Psychologists, together with physiologists from Moskomsport, tracked the changes in footballers' conditions while testing their aerobic and anaerobic capacities. Researches assumed that physical form of the players and their readiness to distribute attention, reaction and coordination may correlate.

For testing players' cognitive skills multiple specially designed machines were used. For instance, one of them is a display with light sensors. Flashing lights re-appear constantly around its surface, and a sportsmen's task is to react immediately by pushing a button - so the reaction is measured. To test the attention distribution abilities, scientists suggested the 'red-and-black charts' challenge. The idea is the following: on a sheet of paper the red numbers from 1 to 15 and black numbers from 1 to 24 are randomly spread. Psychologists measured the time a player spent on finding first all black numbers in ascending order, and then all red numbers in descending order.

After conducting a complex research scientists managed to gain the following data: players with a weak visual memory or an imperfect attention may still attain high results thanks to the anaerobic abilities - conducting 'explosive', high-speed actions. A reverse correlation also presents: by training attention, a player may compensate a low speed in a game. The researchers conclude that for improving the results, visual attention should be developed first in high-speed players -- forwards and wingers.

Alyona Grushko commented on the peculiarities in the behavior of players from different roles. She mentioned a popular opinion that defenders and goalkeepers are introverts, while strikers and wingers are extroverts. Psychologists tend to conclude that in general football players are mostly elated, easy-going and optimistic. 'In my opinion, it is much more interesting, to what extend one player or another masters the important skills,' Alyona Grushko says. 'For instance, if an 'explosive', reactive forward is trained to fast attention switching and decision making, the amount of the player's accurate actions improves, that influences the result of the game.'

Alyona Grushko also provided advice for players on what is to do to maintain a high speed of visual reaction. The players should not spend much time working with gadgets, as it helps developing tunnel vision instead of peripheric. 'I constantly happen to notice that sleepless nights caused by watching World Cup, Champions league broadcasts etc., lower the efficiency of attention and reaction of the players,' psychologist tells.

Having already reached significant results, MSU psychologists are not going to stop their survey. Scientists are going to conduct tests on various periods of the game season, and also describe basic characteristics of players, considering their age and game role.

Lomonosov Moscow State University

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