Perceptual expertise in soccer: a field study of one world class goal scorer

Por: G. Jordet.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Studies have demonstrated how perceptual processes can be related to performance on various soccer tasks, such as defending [1] and passing [2]. The purpose of this study was to obtain ecologically valid knowledge about how expert soccer attackers search for and use information in order to score more goals. Gibson’s ecological approach [3] was used as the conceptual framework. Thus, it was hypothesized that tentative descriptions and explanations of goal scoring expertise could be found in the ways exploratory activity (i.e., moving body, head, and/or eyes to perceive) is related to ambient environmental information specifying opportunities to act.


The participant in this study was, at the time of the data collection, generally regarded among the most effective goal scorers in the world. Multiple methods were employed to reach knowledge about his perceptual processes in real game situations. First, he was filmed in three games. A high zoom camera obtained close-up pictures while a regular zoom camera captured events around the ball. The two films were then edited together into picture-in-picture video sequences. Variables related to context, visual exploratory activity, and performance with the ball were analyzed. Finally, the video situations formed the basis for three video stimulated recall interviews.


The video analyses showed that the participant employed an exploratory activity pattern that was adapted to perceiving information located in the immediate surroundings and less adapted to perceiving information located further away. The interviews revealed how the participant actively moved into positions where he could better perceive opponents and how he attended to specific aspects of the environment when shooting.

Discussion / Conclusions

The results suggest that goal scoring perceptual expertise can be described on a relational level, involving actions, environmental information, and exploratory activity. For example, it seems that the tight situations attackers encounter inside the score box, involving multiple constraints (e.g., opponents, ball, and goal), require use of highly adaptive visual exploratory strategies. This is consistent with the ecological approach to perception. Studies with larger samples of expert participants should be carried out to test the hypotheses from this study.


[1]. Williams, A. & Davids, K. (1998). Res Q Ex & Sp, 69, 111-128.
[2]. Jordet, G. (in press). J of App Sp Psych.
[3]. Gibson, J. (1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston, Houghton Mifflin.




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