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Soccer Players Learning New Moves On the Field Thanks To Brain-Training Video Games

Video games seem to be teaching soccer players a few new tricks on the field, as well as helping them to make smarter choices against opponents. Striker for the Dutch soccer team AZ Alkmaar, Calvin Stengs likes to steer his virtual blue spaceship through empty space while avoiding enemy ships and firing his lasers at the target, whenever he’s not running down the field crossing opponents and shooting the ball into the goal. His soccer team plays in the country’s top division, the Eredvisie.

Video games may soon play a big part in soccer, aside from the current EA FIFA games, Stengs plays a game known as IntelliGym which is meant to train his cognitive skills; how quickly he can recognize movement patterns, how well he can keep track of his opponent’s movements, how he can keep track of and deal with multiple players at the same time, how quickly he can switch between offense and defense and analyze which situation calls for which, and how much memory space can his brain process.

A similar study was done two decades ago by a former Israeli Air Force psychologist, named Daniel Gopher after he had pilots play the game. He found that by playing the game the cognitive skills of his pilots increased, the game itself was originally developed by psychologists at the University of Illinois in order to investigate how people learn skills from playing the game. Danny Danker was still in flight school back when the game was first released, but a few years later he played the game and saw the potential it had and in 2001 he co-founded Applied Cognitive Engineering, the same company that went on to create IntelliGym, Danker states that he now seeks to create brain-training games centering around hockey and basketball, “Sport, from a cognitive standpoint, is very similar to flight, If you think about competitive athletes, and particularly team sports, you have a very complex environment.” The Soccer version of IntelliGym looks like an updated version of the game Meteor in the form of a soccer game where the player controls a ship around a rectangular arena and moves teammates into position whit the goal of shooting a yellow hexagon into a green goal zone, and the game will adapt depending on the player’s success or failure.

The progress of the players was recorded by the company and was reported to have improved 35% and 5% for a controlled group. Head of development and performance at AZ, Marijn Beuker, had this to say in regard to the results of their game, “We saw progress in the attacking part and the switching to transition play, the switching to attacking.” However Jurrit Sander who runs the IntelliGym program states that understanding the reason for the performance increase or decrease is not easy, “It’s very difficult to say whether a player improved because of IntelliGym or because of something else.” Stengs may be the first IntelliGym player to graduate to AZ’s senior team, in Eredivisie due to his use of the game, but as the program expands others will soon follow him ad maybe even those in the professional league will play the IntelliGym game.

Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

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