The emergence of an illusion: playing with game times.

It is usually said that time is a key variable in the game. But does this phantom "time" really exist?

Time could in fact be a great illusion. Certainly one of those illusions necessary for our lives. Contemporary physics claims that there is no such thing as “time” at a fundamental and elementary level of matter. Time is indeed real in our daily experience, but the latter is an approximation, an illusion, a "measure of our ignorance" [1].

On the other hand, this time called "illusory" by science acts very concretely on our lives: for the philosopher Bergson there is a real duration, a continuous and ineliminable current of past and future that persists and characterizes our conscience, a lived and subjective time that holds together the fabric of our existence and gives body and value to our living (we are beings full of memories, projects, expectations, actions and reflections, that is, lived time). From this lived and concrete time we then abstract a spatialized time, that is, discrete and divided into separate instants placed in sequence, a quantifiable and measurable, objective time, which is the time of the hands of the clock, a time valid for everyone, the result of an operation of the intellect that abstracts and generalises [2]. On the other hand, neuroscience recognizes that the brain dedicates specific areas and neural networks to both these times, the personal and the objective, and that they are therefore an original "filter" of our experience, that is, our experience< /strong> of reality is inevitably "temporalized" as Kant would say[3].

In short, a beautiful tangle of times,  so we could say that what we call "time" emerges differently at different levels, from different perspectives. Time is a measure of complexity. Even in the game we can "play" at different time scales, and indeed even this interaction of times, this tangled network, is a measure of the complexity of the game.

There certainly exists an OBJECTIVE TIME, measurable, chronological. The match lasts so many minutes, the exercise lasts so many minutes... It is indeed interesting to note how modern sport develops in parallel with the objectification of time, and does not exist without this: the industrial revolution brings with it the request for a rationalization of time, the times of goods transit from one place to another must beat a time that is no longer arbitrary, the Greenwich meridian therefore establishes the time and begins to regulate, according to an abstraction, also the times at different latitudes (1870)[4]; in parallel and at the same time the formalization of the rules, including that of playing time, gives life to what we know as modern sport.

The objective time on the pitch is the frame for what happens in the game. This frame can, on the other hand, remain in the background (the sequence of passes that lasts 15min, the match that lasts 45min, etc.), or be an element placed in close-upin the game (let's see in three minutes who makes the most passes). We can therefore play with objective time: the final match can be marked by goals in a certain time (whoever scores the most goals in 10 minutes of play wins), or by the time it takes us to make a certain number of goal (whoever gets to three first wins, if a team scores two consecutive goals in three minutes it counts as double etc.).

We immediately realize, however, that that time on the stopwatch is not experienced in the same way by all players: those 15 minutes of sequences become problematic and probably longer for a player who has a difficult relationship with oriented control, the last 5 minutes of the match are not experienced in the same way by the team in the lead and the one in the back etc. There is always a SUBJECTIVE TIME that gives a strong imprint to the gaming experience; just as the time we spend looking at a display case with an animal that scares us or the time anxiously waiting for the traffic light to return to green expands and is actually perceived as wider than objective time, just as the "time of happiness" flies and escapes quickly, even the subjective time we spend in the field is strongly influenced and mediated by various processes: from the biochemistry of the body (how lack of sleep or incorrect nutrition can alter time), from memory and experience (which often fluidifies or slows down the time of choice and action), from the attention and emotions which are fundamental in the dilation or narrowingenment of subjective time. Even with subjective time we can therefore play: varying the exercise by adding "noise" expands the attention time that the brain pays to its dynamics (but for some an excessive and unmanageable "noise" can cause inhibition), the mnemonic recognition of a situation that reflects the competition context fluidizes the times of choice, from a relational point of view, security and self-esteem "color" the experiential time of the game in shades favorable to learning.

In the game the TIME OF CHOICES therefore has an unavoidable subjective matrix, but it also depends on the game situation in which the player is immersed. The contraction of decision time seems to be an important trend: the data confirms that the average time from when a player receives the ball to when he gives it up by making a choice seems to decrease, the game becomes faster[5]. Scientific studies [6] also tell us that neural time (the brain's response time to stimuli) precedes awareness time, that is, the brain makes decisions, by according to recent studies [7] - until a few seconds before we become aware of it. At certain time scales of the game some choices occur at an unconscious level, preceding thought. If we want to play with the time of choices, therefore, a spatialization of the playing time becomes fundamental: depending on the situation, the distance ball-team-mates-opponents, there will be moments in which the >immersionin the relationship ensures that decision-making precedes thought (acting time), moments in which observation of the relationship allows one to perceive the choice (< em>perceived time), moments in which the distance from the relationship allows an interpretation of the choice (including time). Training at different space-time scales consequently becomes fundamental, because, for example, in immediate action what can be immediately leveraged if not on emotion and relational bonds, perception on the principles of the game and on the fact of recognizing those situations (therefore having experienced them), the understanding of still different processes: as Mr. Giovanni Barbugian underlined in a recent webinar, it is not necessarily the case where I have space and time to think (e.g. 3 attackers against a single defender in an open half of the field) is necessarily easier, indeed, often the thought "holds back" the effectiveness of the action and therefore these situations also need to be trained.

Choices, relationships, time...making the right choice, in relation to teammates and opponents, at the right time, refers us to the concept of TIMING. Literally, timing is a «distribution of signals or the execution of operations that order events and phenomena in a temporal succession» [8]. In short, a concatenation of individual game times in the most fluid and coordinated manner possible. Playing with timing therefore means practicing the signals to recognize and interpret in order to synchronize and carry out a certain action: learning to read a technical gesture as a signal to make a temporal interaction happen, to trigger: for example ,the control oriented in my direction as a signal to make a movement towards my partner at that precise moment, the interpretation of the support foot or a posture or eye contact as a moment to respond in a certain way .

Acting on the level of timing still means remaining on a syntactic level (of signs), but the game is always and first of all also a semantic question (of meaning): time is therefore also a RELATIONAL TIME, a time that arises from relationships; it is not enough to "read" the timing signals distributed in the game, I must also interact with an intricate network of times given by relationships, a network that has depth, which is full of meaning: each player plays at a different time, which is the his own time (it has meaning for him), and interprets the different distributed signals according to his time (I remember Clarence Seedorf who seemed to slow down the game, when in fact he was establishing an extraordinary relationship with his teammates based on different times); moreover, two players who have a strong gaming relationship agree on timing even without the need for signals; each opponent will interpret the signals (timing) differently, e.gwicked of pressing etc. etc. Here then the different configurations of teammates-opponents-ball-game situation bring out a distributed network of relationship times, of significant times, of systems that intersect and overlap, from which what we call "time" emerges as a key variable of game. Which is nothing more than an illusion, an emergency, a waste product of the game.

The fact that time can be an illusion is, on the other hand, extremely fascinating. To delude (in-ludus) literally means playing the game. Time then perhaps deludes us, it slips away, escapes definitions [9], it slips from our hand like the sand that we would like to hold back, precisely to allow us to stay in the game. It is the void that offers us the fullness of the game.



The relationship between executive functions and football intelligence: scientific evidence and new frontiers for the youth coach



The term executive functions includes a series of cognitive processes that allow adaptation to the context, depending on the implementation of behaviors directed towards a goal. They come into play when the implicit, automatic and instinctive response processes require the integration of information on an attentional and intentional level. From the research of various authors it has emerged that executive functions can be grouped into three basic nuclei - attention, working memory, cognitive flexibility -, from which higher order processes subsequently emerge, linked to decision making, reasoning, to problem solving and executive feedback.

The executive functions, therefore, come into play every time the individual carries out finalized actions: in fact they allow the recognition and maintenance in memory of useful stimuli, the construction of an action plan with respect to them, the behavioral choice to deal with it and finally control the results (feedback), in order, if necessary, to make changes to subsequent decisions.

Research shows that the frontal lobes in the human brain are involved in all processes of regulating behavior and adapting to complex situations, which require the use of higher cognitive activities. In particular, the dorsal-lateral prefrontal area appears to be implicated in the mediation of the so-called "cold" functions, which involve slow and thoughtful processing of problems, while the ventro-medial prefrontal cortex is linked to the "warm" functions, which allow more immediate and automatic processing of emotional stimuli and situations that elicit stress.

Regarding the development of executive functions, we can say that there are two moments in life in which the individual is particularly sensitive to their acquisition: the pre-school period and the transition to adolescence. There are also sensitive periods of development specific to each function. In general, basic EFs develop earlier, while higher order EFs evolve later.





Recent studies have focused on an increasingly broad field of research regarding the positive correlation between physical activity and the development of executive functions. Observing the results, it is clear, as Best (2010) underlines, that aerobic activity can have different effects in the various age groups of children and adolescents, depending on the development times of the specific functions. For example, there will be a greater predisposition for tasks that require cognitive flexibility during late childhood compared to early childhood, where activities that require attention are more effective.

In his review Best (2010), indicates three factors that influence the ways in which physical activity has a positive impact on executive functions:

  1. The cognitive demands that are part of the structure of the exercise: team activities, games that involve processes of cooperation and conflict, randomized activities and the alternating execution of different motor programs are effective for the development of FE;
  2. the cognitive processes involved in the execution of a complex movement and the coordination aspects;
  3. the structural and functional changes that physical activity causes in the brain: according to some studies, in fact, it stimulates synaptic plasticity in brain regions implicated in memory and learning, as well as in the frontal regions, implicated in EF.< /li>

On a general level, there are two conditions that make some sports more favorable than others for the implementation of executive functions: research shows that open skill sports (which involve complex, unpredictable and constantly changing situations), and in in particular those of a strategic type (which require the planning of effective behaviors in contexts that involve movements in relation to teammates and opponents) are correlated with greater abilities in cognitive flexibility, useful for adapting to the changing context through functional strategies, and in working memory , which allows you to recruit and use information more effectively.





Football represents one of the sports of choice for the development of the cognitive system, thanks to its intrinsic rules and characteristics. In fact, the footballer is required to adapt to highly complex situations, making decisionsrapid and flexible in an intense and changing context, through the selection of salient stimuli and the reading of interacting variables, such as for example the number of teammates and opponents involved, the position on the pitch, the occupied and free playing spaces, the movements collectives.

Empirical evidence links the development of executive functions with elite level footballers. In fact, a recent study by Verburgh and colleagues (2016) shows that young elite footballers between the ages of 8 and 12 present better performances in tasks that require attentional inhibition, working memory and attention compared to amateurs of the same age. The results of a previous analysis also highlighted how high-level footballers in adolescence (between 13 and 17 years) outperform their non-elite peers also with respect to cognitive flexibility and problem solving skills. The literature also highlights how youth football at high levels is predictive of a greater capacity for implicit (unintentional and autonomous) motor learning between the ages of 10 and 12 (Verburgh, 2016).

Another area that has been taken into consideration by recent studies is the definition of talent, understood as the analysis of the so-called football intelligence, identified by the authors as the ability to use executive functions. An interesting experiment by Vestberg and colleagues (2012) tried to demonstrate how a footballer's predisposition to success is strongly linked to his cognitive development. The study showed how positive results in executive function tests administered to individuals correlated with the number of goals and assists scored two years after the experiment. A subsequent analysis by Vestberg (2017) also highlighted how cognitive functions predict football success not only in adults, but also in adolescents between 12 and 19 years old. Specifically, basic executive functions appeared to be more predictive in adolescents, as they have a high level of development at that age compared to higher order functions, which increase in significance with increasing age.

Finally, a study compared children between 8 and 16 years of age from professional youth sectors and children belonging to amateur teams, finding better results in motor inhibition and attentional alertness in the former, both fundamental skills in the game of soccer. In fact, they used temporal information more profitably to reach and maintain a state of alert and also proved superior in suppressing motor responses that were previously planned but no longer useful.

Knowing the executive functions, their development and the didactic aspects linked to their possible strengthening therefore becomes a fundamental skill for youth sector coaches, who act on the young footballer in an age group strongly predisposed to increasing these skills cognitive, closely linked to the concept of game intelligence, understood as the ability to cope with the complex demands of this sport quickly and effectively.





Best, J. R., & Miller, P. H. (2010), A developmental perspective on executive function in Child Development, 81(6), 1641-1660.

Best J. R. (2010), Effects of physical activity on children's executive function: Contributions of experimental research on aerobic exercise in Developmental Review, 30(4), 331-351.

Diamond A. (2015), Effects of physical exercise on executive functions: going beyond simply moving to moving with thought, in Annals of sports medicine and research, 2(1), 1011.< /p>

Diamond, A. (2012), Activities and programs that improve children's executive functions. Current directions in psychological science, 21(5), 335-341.

Diamond A. (2013), Executive functions in Annual Review of Psychology, 64:135.

Verburgh L., Scherder E.J.A., van Lange P.A., Oosterlaan J. (2014) Executive Functioning in Highly Talented Soccer Players. PLoS ONE 9(3): e91254. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091254.

Verburgh L., Scherder E. J. A., van Lange P. A. M. & Oosterlaan J. (2016) The key to success in elite athletes? Explicit and implicit motor learning in youth elite and non-elite soccer players, Journal of Sports Sciences, 34:18, 1782-1790, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2015.1137344.

Verburgh L., Scherder E.J.A., Van Lange P.A.M., Oosterlaan J. (2016) Do Elite and Amateur Soccer Players Outperform Non-Athletes on Neurocognitive Functioning? A Study Among 8-12 Year Old Children. PLoS ONE 11(12): e0165741. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165741.

Vestberg T., Gustafson R., Maurex L., Ingvar M., Petrovic P. (2012,)

It costs less for stephen curry

Cheap or Resistant?

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 I became aware of this video thanks to my brother, a professional basketball player, who, showing it to me, expressed his disbelief not so much for the technical performance (for heaven's sake I think he never achieved 105 consecutive triples even in his best dreams , although he remains an excellent shooter...) but how much for the physical one. He says to me: “But how does he do it, he doesn't even seem to get tired?” Of course, shooting a basket is not typically recognized as an act of who knows what energy expense, but repeating it more than a hundred times in the space of five minutes, I believe, can very well be considered an activity of a certain intensity. Seeing him repeat this gesture with such naturalness aroused in him the idea that he was (and of course he certainly is) an extremely physically trained athlete. But for my brother, one of the most skilled of the least skilled basketball players (forgive me the joke... perhaps), does shooting 100 times consecutively "cost" as much as Curry?

We normally refer to sporting skills in quantitative terms. That player is good because he makes many baskets, assists, rebounds, etc... or in more "physical" terms because he runs many kilometers, performs many sprints, many changes of direction, etc... We tend to think about quantity, the more trained you are the more things you do. But the quality? Where do we put the efficiency of a movement? How important is it to develop cost-effectiveness in terms of performance optimization?

And so, thanks to my brother's inspiration, I tried to give a bit of a picture (certainly in a summary and non-exhaustive way) of this concept, which in my opinion is very important, from which to draw many methodological ideas: the economy of movement.



Motor consistency is defined as the ability to achieve the performance goal more and more often through practice. And I think Stephen Curry's video is a great example of developing motor consistency. In the article “All roads lead to Rome” we discussed the relationship between consistency and variability. The athlete who slavishly repeats the same gesture in the exact same way is often considered good. In reality, international research on motor learning is full of evidence that shows the opposite. High-level athletes are those who are able to vary the shooting method the most (micro-variability) through the use of greater degrees of freedom of movement, while achieving the performance result in an increasingly consistent manner (reducing macro-variability) .

In this article, however, I would like not to talk about the "technical" aspect, i.e. the ways in which this result is achieved, but about the "physical" one. What happens from this point of view to the best players? Is there a relationship between skill level and energy expenditure? Are the most skilled players also the cheapest?
The answer, I can already tell you, is positive and there are many references in international research.
Below I will give you the analysis of one of the articles, in my opinion, more complete and interesting on the subject, namely the Review by the authors W.A. Sparrow and K.M. Newell entitled “Metabolic energy expenditure and the regulation of movement economy” published in 1998 in the international journal “Psychonomic Bulletin & Review”.



The article is truly exhaustive on the topic and I invite you to read it for further information. Below we will focus only on what are defined as the effects of learning on economics, but it is only part of what the authors explain on the topic in question.
In the article the authors demonstrate the concept for which "energy saving" is a fundamental principle that supports the learning and control of motor skills. The human organism spontaneously tends to seek the lowest energy expenditure. In its process of adapting to the environment, it develops, through practice, the ability to reduce energy expenditure while simultaneously managing to improve its competence.

The concept of motor efficiency is defined by the authors as the relationship between the mechanical work developed and the metabolic energy sphex. Consequently, for the same amount of work done, the person who spends less energy is more efficient. And it is precisely this concept that is associated with that of economy, which refers precisely to the quantity of energy spent, coming from food sources and transformed thanks to metabolic processes. One movement is more economical than another when it requires less energy expenditure.



Adaptive movement patterns emerge as a function of the organism's propensity to conserve metabolic energy, on the one hand, and the demands arising from constraints imposed by the organism, the task and the environment, on the other" ( Sparrow & Newell, 1998).

This beautiful definition by the authors reminds us that sporting ability is nothing more than a behavior that emerges from the interaction of three fundamental factors, such as the organism with its peculiarities, the environment in which the task is developed and the characteristics of the task itself. Motor skill can therefore be defined as the ability to coordinate and control movement to achieve a goal within this interaction.

Why is it said that constraints influence the economy of movement?
If we talk about the constraints imposed by the characteristics of the organism we could say that our "structure" influences energy expenditure. An interesting study by Cavanagh and Karm (1985) demonstrates how athletes of identical body mass but with different characteristics of the lower limbs (more or less thin legs) when running at the same speed, and consequently subjected to the same environmental and task constraints, develop different energy expenses.
If we instead talk about the constraints imposed by the environment, it is immediately easy to think how much meteorological characteristics (an example of environmental constraints) can influence, all other characteristics being equal, energy expenditure.
Task constraints, on the other hand, refer to all those rules imposed by the game, or to characteristics of the game itself such as the use of tools, means of transport or other equipment, which effectively limit performance.

Figure 1 shows a conceptual framework that shows the interaction between the various constraints that we have quickly described and how they influence the economy of movement


An organism's movements are defined as emerging from the interaction of environmental, task, and organism constraints. The adaptation process is guided by the criterion of minimum energy expenditure, so that the constraints of the task and the environment are satisfied with the minimum metabolic cost” (Sparrow & Newell, 1998).



In the vision of movement as a process of adaptation to the environment and the task, the authors define human learning as one of the main aspects to observe (but not the only one).

Figure 2 highlights what happens through practice in the relationship between energy expenditure and performance. Through training, athletes are able to reduce error, increase movement consistency (see Curry's transformations in the video, and any other demonstration of sporting skill developed with a high level of achievement) consequently raising the level of performance by decreasing at the same time the energy expenditure necessary to achieve it.

In support of the theory of the economy of movement associated with the level of ability, many studies are conducted, first on animals and then on men, among which I believe that the one by the authors belonging to the Asami group (1976) who examined the relationship between skill level, metabolic expenditure, and ball kicking accuracy.
Figure 3 shows the relationship between energy expenditure, ball kicking velocity, and mechanical efficiency, calculated by dividing the kinetic energy imparted to the ball by the net metabolic energy expenditure. From the two curves shown at the top of the figure it is clear that the metabolic energy spent required to kick the ball was lower for the subjectsmore skilled.
When football accuracy is investigated, an interesting aspect occurs: for both groups, skilled and less skilled players, the greatest accuracy occurs at 80% of the maximum speed recorded, which coincidentally, coincides with the percentage of speed at which the best mechanical efficiency is recorded.


The study by Peter J. Brancazio, published in 1981 in the American Journal of Physics, entitled “Physics of Basketball” in which after a long and complex examination of shooting in basketball, the author concludes that the most skilled players also appear to be those who shoot most frequently using trajectories that require the least force and have the highest probability of success. The ability of the best shooters is therefore highlighted not only in making the greatest number of baskets but also in selecting the most economical trajectories.



One of the main concepts that can be summarized from reading this interesting review is the one identified by the authors as “economy-learning” or “efficiency-learning” principle, a principle for which through practice the organism minimizes energy expenditure to achieve the movement goal.
How is the economy trained? Often among technicians who work to improve performance there is discussion about the importance of physical qualities understood as increasing the abilities of athletes. But how much does knowing how to move on the pitch matter in terms of movement quality? How much does knowing how to do things well have an impact on delaying the onset of fatigue? Within team sports, characterized by strong technical elements that are decisive for performance, I believe that reproducing in training what happens in competition in terms of quality (training following the principle of specificity) can only increase the possibility of impacting the energy cost of movement and consequently indirectly increase the performance potential of an athlete. Training in specificity means respecting the characteristics of the context of the competition, providing, in addition to the purely technical expression of motor skill, also that process of perception-action which forces the athlete to continuously take information from the environment in which he competes, a process itself which requires expenditure of energy for which it is better to develop economy.