In the global juggernaut that is professional football, each entity looks for that little bit more, that competitive edge which can mean the difference between dizzying success and adoration, and crippling defeat.
In the words of the New York Red Bulls II head coach John Wolyniec, “At the highest level of soccer all you’re looking for is a small advantage, any little advantage that you can gain could pay off in big dividends”.
The American United Soccer League team recently took part in an eye tracking experiment looking at how players focus and divide their attention during crucial parts of play. Function a You Tube channel which combines science and technology, used wearable eye trackers to record the gaze of five players executing a range of skills. Patrick Adelman with Fractal Media explains "Soccer is an incredibly dynamic sport, and studying professionals gives us a good way to understand different aspects of visual processing".
Eye tracking allows coaches and trainers to see things from the perspective of players. It reveals subconscious and instinctive attention patterns, which can be used to adapt or ﬁne-tune certain skills. It also reveals behaviors associated with success, allowing this knowledge to be shared and replicated. According to Mike Bartels, Senior Research Director at Tobii Pro Insight. "Over the past decade, new technologies have turned athletic performance and training into a science. From heartbeat and brainwaves to foot speed and throwing accuracy, we can now precisely measure just about any physiological or behavioral element of sport."
The pilot study revealed that during a penalty kick players spent 45% of their time looking at the goalkeeper, 37% focused on the goal, and just 16% on the ball. During set pieces, two of the players studied showed markedly different gaze patterns.
"I think people underestimate how often their eyes change...it certainly would be interesting to use the technology on different players and track what are some commonalities with players that have more success," says Coach Wolyniec.
Researchers in the Norwegian Premier League have also been exploring the gaze patterns of elite footballers as they play. Their study was unique in that it sought to track the gaze data of players in a full-size, 11 vs 11 match. With a busier field and more players to contend with, the researchers were able to draw conclusions that are directly applicable to the game as it is played at a professional level. Notably, it was discovered that the fixation duration of the players was longer when there were more varied stimuli to navigate. There were also significant differences between where players focused their attention during the attack and the defense phase of play, shedding light on how top players use their vision to maintain control of the game. Read the full study.
Still curious? Read more about how eye tracking is being used to boost human performance and athletic ability.