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The brain in sport: Investigating a theoretical model of the cognitive correlates of sporting performance

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


Project ID: S3 1

Around 50%-60% of individuals in the UK report playing sport on a weekly basis. Two million people in England alone play football at least twice a month. Evaluating the performance of players is important in organised competition where it aids in the identification and retention of talent, and the training of players. It is therefore crucial to develop strategies to support sporting assessment and training. Yet many strategies are developed top-down that have little-to-no theoretical and empirically tested underpinnings. Focussing on football (but still exploring transfer across other sports) this PhD will explore the cognitive theoretical underpinnings of performance and apply these to create a cognitive decision-making assessment tool for football players and coaches. Through a multi-construct lens of perception, action and cognition, this PhD will explore areas of brain, behaviour and cognition by investigating exciting, newly discovered, yet key cognitive aspects that govern behaviour and performance in sport.

Most sporting assessments focus on physical performance, yet it is also the interaction of various cognitive components that contributes to sporting expertise; from elements such as recently identified neural alpha oscillations (Mackenzie et al., in review) to complex cognitive skills such as situation awareness, which has largely been untested empirically (Huffman, Mackenzie et al., 2022). The proposed research will develop and test a theoretical model that extends current research, exploring how neural alpha oscillations, cognitive ability, visual scanning, prediction and decision making interact and link to success and expertise in football.

Working with leading experts in cognitive neuroscience and sport psychology, across three phases, the successful applicant will: (1) Use EEG measures of alpha oscillations to explore how visuospatial and cognitive processing are linked to football expertise; (2) explore how these neural components link to aspects of situation awareness such as visual scanning and “what happens next?” prediction skill and how these, in turn, mediate football expertise and performance; (3) develop and empirically validate a “What Happens Next?” performance assessment and training tool in football (e.g., Kroll, Mackenzie, et al, 2020).

The student will explore the topic using a range of cognitive psychological methods and methodologies. They will be trained in advanced statistical methods using R and they will also engage and be trained in many Open Science principles including, but not limited to, pre-registration.

Supervisory Team:

Dr Andrew Mackenzie

Dr Christina Howard

Dr Kate Roberts

Entry qualifications

  • 1st class / 2:1 undergraduate degree, and / or equivalent
  • Completed masters level qualification and / or evidence of substantive relevant research experience

How to apply

Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application and include the project ID in your application

Application deadline: Friday 16th June 2023.

Fees and funding

This is an NTU Studentship funded opportunity.

Guidance and support

Find out about guidance and support for PhD students.

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Andrew Mackenzie