Science & Technology

The Football Study


TheFootball IntelliGym® training program was awarded research funding from the European Union’s Disruptive Innovation Fund (part of the Horizon 2020 program). Following the award, a thorough study has been conducted by VU University Amsterdam, reviewing the training efficacy of the IntelliGym® on actual football performance.

The research was led by Prof. Geert Savelsbergh, the head of the Motor Control group at MOVE and the Desmond Tutu chair for Youth, Sport and Reconciliation. The study was the first of its kind, measuring transfer of skills from a training environment to on-field football performance.

Study procedure

Football IntelliGym® efficacy was studied on 4 youth football teams: U14, U15, U16 and U17 playing in the football academies of PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands.

Each participating team was divided to two groups: half of the players were trained with the Football IntelliGym® and half were asked to perform a sport-related computerized control task: observing video clips of real football matches and identifying football-related events or actions. All participants were instructed to do their respective tasks (IntelliGym® or video review) twice a week, 30 minutes each session, during a period of 10 weeks.

On-field football performance

The actual football performance of the participants was measured before and after the intervention. In particular, the researchers measured actual decision making quality during football activity. In order to measure that particular performance in an objective and accurate manner, the scientists used the football performance Notation Analysis System, developed by VU University. According to the Notation Analysis’ protocol, players were video recorded participating in a 4×4 small-area football game (“mini game”). The video footage was later analyzed by the scientists using pre-defined scoring parameters.

Study Results – Football Performance

Significant improvement by IntelliGym® users

With ball actions

The IntelliGym® group improvement (113) was 30% higher than the control group (83) in decisions and actions taken by players in possession of the ball.

Main brain skill involved:

Working memory

A memory unit storing new and existing information

Off ball movement

The IntelliGym® group improvement (91) was 56% higher than the control group (35) in finding open spaces and movements off ball.

Main brain skill involved:

Divided Attention

The ability to pay attention to two or more channels of information

Transition game

The IntelliGym® group improvement (12.5) was 11% higher than the control group (1.5) in quick and effective transition games.

Main brain skill involved:

Task Switching

The ability to inhibit current task and shift to another task

Developed for Air Force Pilots

Technology on the fly

The IntelliGym® technology is based on a concept originally developed for Air Force pilots by DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency).

The initial research was conducted by Prof. Daniel Gopher of the Technion in Haifa. Prof. Gopher, a graduate of Prof. Daniel Kahneman (the Nobel Laureate) was awarded the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s Distinguished International Colleague Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to the human factors field.

Prof. Gopher and his colleagues hypothesized they could train pilots’ brain performance on land, using a cognitive training tool.

The results were mind-blowing. The researchers identified a record improvement in flight performance – more than 30% – for cadets who had undergone focused attention training in Gopher’s simulated “game.” (Gopher, D., Weil, M, and Bareket, T. (1994): Transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to flight, Human Factors, 36, 387-405).

Following this groundbreaking outcome, the training system was integrated into the regular training program of the flight school. In another study, sponsored by NASA, cognitive scientists compared the efficacy of Gopher’s cognitive training approach vs. a sophisticated, pictorial and high-level-graphic and physical-fidelity-based computer simulation of a Blackhawk helicopter. The result: the proposed cognitive trainer was very successful in improving performance, while the alternative was not. (See: (1) Hart, Battiste. NASA-Ames Research Center: Field test of video game trainer (1992); (2) Gopher, Weil, Bareket. Fidelity revisited: The transfer of skill from a computer game trainer to actual flight (1991)).

Following their success in aeronautics, Gopher and his team demilitarized the technology, further improved it, and incorporated Applied Cognitive Engineering (ACE), in order to develop cognitive training tools for other tasks. ACE’s patented technology, called Cognitive Simulation, is proven to increase trainees’ performance in their profession or task by 20% – 40%. The first obvious frontier for ACE’s revolutionary technology was… Sports.


Prof. Daniel Gopher

A fellow of the US Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

“What we have discovered is that a key factor for an effective transfer from training environment to reality is that the training program ensures Cognitive Fidelity, this is, it should faithfully represent the mental demands that happen in the real world. Traditional approaches focus instead on physical fidelity, which may seem more intuitive, but less effective and harder to achieve.”

Down to Earth

From fighter pilots to power forwards

ACE soon developed IntelliGym®, an online tool which uses Cognitive Simulation technology to improve players’ performance in team sports. Interestingly, flying a jet was found to be similar to playing a team sport game. Quick decision making under pressure, shot selection, anticipation, execution, team work and spatial orientation are all common skills to flying a jet and playing team sports.

The IntelliGym® addresses a variety of sports related skills such as executive control processes that are responsible for aspects such as planning and sequencing activities, focusing attention, selecting between environmental aspects, switching and dividing attention between different actions, and more.

So far, the IntelliGym® has been adapted to basketball, ice-hockey and football. In a series of studies, the training program yielded remarkable results: improvement by 20%-40% in a variety of sport-related standard parameters and statistics. Moreover, the trained teams recorded remarkably higher win ratios. Since its inception, the program has been adopted by tens of thousands of players, whose training data is used for continuously optimizing the training program, thus improving its personal adaption and efficacy. Various studies have confirmed that the skill of attention control is a general skill that may be applied to many different settings.

Specifically, it has been shown that if trained effectively, such attention control skills could be transferred and generalized across different settings and different task requirements, as long as the tasks maintained the same processing modality. (Gopher, Armony & Greenshpan, 2000; Armony & Gopher, 2002).

In developing sport-related cognitive training tools, the researchers map the brain skills that are required for top performance in the specific game. With this map in hand, ACE’s researchers design a system that stimulates the exact same skill set. Although the players are merely performing with a keyboard in front of a monitor, if you screen the minds of the trainees, you’ll find that the cognitive skills (sometimes called “brain muscles”) that are working are exactly those that are required during a real sport game.

The trainer is therefore designed as a tool that trains multiple cognitive skills in a unified and comprehensive task environment. Trainer components are mapped to the cognitive skills that were identified in the initial task analysis (following years of research on the sport) and are incorporated as integral parts into a computerized game.

Finally, ACE’s trainer philosophy emphasizes the cognitive fidelity of tasks (similar processing modalities, similar attention control requirements), and not their physical fidelity.