Visual Perception in Elite Football
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Background: The aim of the present dissertation was to contribute to the currently available research on visual perception in football by examining how elite football players gather information in real football match play through their gaze and scanning behavior. Specifically, this dissertation focused on the duration and location of visual fixations and the information and duration of visual exploratory scanning exhibited by elite male midfield players, as well as the scanning behavior and subsequent performance of elite male players in all playing positions, across different age groups, during non-restrictive 11 v 11 football match play. What we know about visual perception in football is largely based upon empirical studies that have investigated football players’ visual search strategies in laboratory settings with more or less representative designs. These studies do not adequately consider the visual reality nor the relationship between perception and action that football players encounter during match play. Hence, this dissertation focuses on capturing football players visual–perceptual strategies in their actual competitive environment, with potential implications for future research designs and coaching practice. This dissertation uses Gibson’s (1979) ecological approach to visual perception as a theoretical framework to guide the research questions and interpret the findings. Objectives: This dissertation had one overall objective: to identify characteristics of the visual–perceptual processes of elite football players in their natural performance environment and ascertain how these processes relate to on-field performance and contextual variables. To reach this objective, five research questions were prepared and discussed: (1) How does scanning relate to on-field attacking performance? (2) What characterizes scanning behavior in different contexts and playing situations? (3) What characterizes the timing of scanning, and how does this relate to on-field performance? (4) What characterizes the duration of scanning and fixations in elite football midfield players? (5) What characterizes the location and information (i.e., number of teammates and opponents) of scanning and fixations in elite football midfield players? Design and Methods: The overall designs of the papers involved quantitative video match analysis (Papers I and II) and eye-tracking analysis (Papers III and IV) conducted in nonrestrictive settings during 11 v 11 match play. Additionally, Papers III and IV were exploratory case studies. In total, 85 players comprising elite-level senior male football players (Papers I, III, and IV) and elite-level youth male football players (Paper II) participated in this dissertation. Results and Discussion: In Paper I, the findings revealed a positive relationship between players’ scan frequency prior to receiving the ball and the subsequent pass completion rate. Additionally, attacking scan frequency changed as a result of positional demands (e.g., pitch position) and different contexts (i.e., opponent pressure). These findings support the idea that scanning in football is a part of the complex interaction that affects football performance. Moreover, the results suggest that coaches should focus on scanning as a tool to enhance players’ ability to pick up important visual information. Paper II found similar results regarding scan frequency and pass completion as well as the relationship between scan frequency and different positional and contextual demands. Moreover, the findings showed that U19 players scanned more than U17 players and were able to conduct their last scan closer to the ball receiving moment. Furthermore, there was a positive relationship between players’ ability to conduct the last scan closer to the ball receiving moment and a more forward-oriented body position when receiving the ball, suggesting that players were able to adjust their bodies to a more advantageous position when they had more updated information of their surroundings. In Paper III, the results showed that the action undertaken with the ball and the context of the ball at the moment of scan initiation was related to the duration of scanning. Moreover, we found that over 90% of scans lasted for 0.66 seconds or less and only 2.3% of scans included a fixation, suggesting that players are able to gather the required information without the need to foveally fixate surrounding objects and spaces when scanning. Lastly, the results from Paper IV showed differences in fixation location and areas of interest when the ball was near compared to far away, and during attack compared to during defense. Furthermore, we found longer fixation durations when the players looked at more areas of interest (i.e., ball, teammate, opponent), suggesting the need for multiple informative sources when practicing football. Additionally, the results revealed that players had much lower average fixation durations than previously reported in both laboratory studies and in situ studies in other sports. Conclusions: In summary, the present thesis provides new knowledge of the frequency, timing, duration, and information of scanning in elite football players. It also provides results from the first-ever study of the gaze behavior of elite football players in 11 v 11 match play. Overall, the findings suggest that future research on visual perception in football should strive to develop more representative designs in non-restrictive settings. Furthermore, coaches should aim to develop football players’ skills with the help of complex contextualized exercises that include an abundance of information, as opposed to decontextualized and isolated exercises in which vital information is removed from the players.
Avhandling (doktorgrad) - Norges idrettshøgskole, 2021
Has partsPaper I: Jordet, G., Aksum, K.M., Pedersen, D.N., Walvekar, A., Trivedi, A., McCall, A., Ivarsson, A. & Priestley, D. (2020). Scanning, contextual factors, and association with performance in English Premier League Footballers: An investigation across a season. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 2399. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.553813
Paper II: Aksum, K.M., Pokolm, M., Bjørndal, C.T., Rein, R., Memmert, D. & Jordet, G. (in press). Scanning activity in elite youth football players. Journal of Sports Sciences.
Paper III: Aksum, K.M., Brotangen, L., Bjørndal, C.T., Magnaguagno, L. & Jordet, G. (2020). Scanning activity of elite football players in 11 v 11 match play: An eye-tracking analysis on the duration and visual information of scanning. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Paper IV: Aksum, K.M, Magnaguagno, L., Bjørndal, C.T., Jordet, G. (2020). What do football players look at? An eye-tracking analysis of the visual fixations of players in 11 v 11 elite football match play. Frontiers in Psychology, 11, 2624. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.562995