Caffeine might affect the tactical decision-making of soccer players

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Can the difference between your favorite professional soccer team winning or losing their game depend on something as simple as a cup of coffee? A study published in Nutrients suggests that caffeine can impact the decision-making of athletes.

Caffeine is an extremely popular substance, thought to improve alertness and cognitive function.  It has also been linked to endurance and improved exercise. These benefits may be especially prevalent for soccer players, with caffeine being shown to improve passing accuracy, agility, and sprinting. Due to this, a very high number of professional soccer players utilize caffeine as a tool. Previous research has focused on the physical effects of caffeine, and this study seeks to expand the literature by focusing on tactical performance.

Study author Rodrigo Freire de Almeida and colleagues utilized nineteen male professional soccer players from the Brazilian fourth division to serve as their sample. Researchers used a randomized, counterbalanced, crossover, double-blind placebo-controlled experimental design. Participants rested to achieve a resting heart rate and then ingested 500 mL of either a juice powder with caffeine or a placebo juice powder.

Participants were asked to refrain from exercise and follow a specific diet (including refraining from caffeine intake) for 24 hours before the experimental sessions. An hour after ingesting the caffeine or placebo, participants did a warm-up and then completed a measure on tactical performance.

Results showed that participants in the caffeine condition showed lower defensive errors than participants who received the placebo. Additionally, players who ingested caffeine showed higher levels of ball possession. Caffeine led to greater tactical decision-making during protocol but did not show the same positive effects for other core tactical principles. Overall, the tactical errors made varied by game and type, with both players in the caffeine condition and players in the placebo position showing better performance on different variables. The results suggest that caffeine intake may be more valuable for positions like forwards rather than defenders.

“Caffeine resulted in positive effects on some tactical decisions during the protocol, but it was deleterious or promoted no observed effect in other of the core tactical principles. For example, total defensive success was lower in the caffeine condition compared to the placebo,” the researchers said.

This study took strides into better understanding how caffeine can affect performance of professional soccer players, not just by physical improvements but by tactical skills. Despite this, it has some limitations. One such limitation is that this study had a lot of dropouts, resulting in a small sample size, which calls into question if these results would replicate. Additionally, due to the ecological validity-focused design of the games, it is difficult to separate variables and isolate what specifically caffeine may be affecting.

“This is only the first study to assess the influence of caffeine on tactical performance and the results should be interpreted with caution,” the researchers said. “Since positive effects on physical performance in response to caffeine intake are well established, this aspect must also be considered for the use of caffeine by soccer players. Future studies could contribute to a better understanding of the effects of caffeine intake on tactical performance and decision-making in soccer.”

The study, “The Effect of Acute Caffeine Ingestion on Tactical Performance of Professional Soccer Players“, was authored by Rodrigo Freire de Almeida, Israel Teoldo da Costa, Guilherme Machado, Natalia Madalena Rinaldi, Rodrigo Aquino, Jason Tallis, Neil David Clarke, and Lucas Guimaraes-Ferreira.



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