Look out! How do footballers' search for opponents during evasive tasks?

Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology
Volume 40, S68-S68.

Polish translation courtesy of Marek Murawski.
Thai translation courtesy of Ashna Bhatt.
Spanish translation courtesy of Laura Mancini.

Stephen Tidman, Jacqueline Alderson, Paul Bourke, Brendan Lay
The University of Western Australia


The ability to identify and evade opponents can be critical to successful performance in sport. Recent research has highlighted the need to examine the role of perception when performing evasive manoeuvres. Perceptual expertise literature investigating visual search strategies (VSS) during tactical tasks show that non-experts serially direct their vision towards discrete objects or locations (target control). Experts, however, perform fewer fixations of longer duration (context control) that has been suggested to be more efficient as it reduces cognitive load. Therefore, this study aimed to compare VSS of Australian football players performing evasive tasks at a high and low-level. Players were ranked according to evasive reaction time and accuracy of evasive direction taken, with players in the top and bottom 33 percentile compared. Game-like scenarios depicting one-vs-one (1v1), two-vs-two (2v2), and three-vs-three (3v3) environments were displayed using a life sized, three-dimensional simulation system. It was hypothesised that high-level (HL) players would evade oncoming opponents earlier and more accurately, compared to low-level (LL), and would exhibit context gaze control. HL players exhibited significantly faster evasion onset times, with no differences in response error observed between groups. Corresponding VSS showed no differences in number of fixations was observed between groups. However, LL players showed a significant change between scenario conditions, with an increase in the mean number of fixations and mean fixation duration in the 3v3 scenario. Preliminary results suggest that while HL performers may retain context gaze strategies during scenarios of a greater complexity, VS strategies are not solely responsible for superior evasive performance.