Attention, working-memory control, working-memory capacity, and sport performance: The moderating role of athletic expertise

Eur J Sport Sci. 2021 Feb;21(2):240-249. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2020.1739143. Epub 2020 Mar 18.


The aim of this research was to detangle the association between attention, working-memory (focusing on both control and capacity functions), and sport performance across athletic expertise. Specifically, the mediating effect of working-memory-control and working-memory-capacity on the attention and performance relationship will be investigated, and whether this effect differs across athlete expertise. A sample of 359 athletes (Mage = 18.91 ± SD = 1.01; 54.87% male) with a range of athletic expertise (novice n = 99, amateur n = 92, elite n = 87, and super-elite n = 81) completed a battery of neurocognitive tasks assessing attention, working-memory-control, working-memory-capacity, and a cognitively engaging motor task (e.g. basketball free-throw task). Athletes with more expertise performed better on tasks of attention, working-memory-control and working-memory-capacity. Results of structural equation modelling indicated a positive association between the cognitive measures and sport performance. Specifically, working-memory-control and working-memory-capacity mediated the attention and sport performance relationship. Additionally, invariance testing indicated larger effects for those with more athletic expertise. These findings provide a better understanding of how attention and the control and capacity functions of working-memory interact to predict performance. Theoretical and practical implications of these results are discussed.

Keywords: Attention; athlete expertise; athlete performance; working-memory; working-memory capacity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Athletes / psychology*
  • Athletic Performance / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Basketball
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Mental Status and Dementia Tests
  • Young Adult