Perceptual expertise of soccer referees playing at various divisions of the greek soccer league

Por: Alexandros Karaiossif, Praxitelis Zachariadis e Vassilia Hatzitaki.

Athens 2004: Pre-olympic Congress

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Field performance of soccer referees has been traditionally related to fitness characteristics such as endurance, anaerobic capacity [1,2] or the referee’s activity profile during the match as this is reflected in the total distance, percent of high velocity or backward running covered [3]. On the other hand, the ability to properly respond to rapidly changing environmental events assumes a certain level of perceptual and cognitive skill related to the speed of information processing and decision-making. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether expertise in soccer refereeing is influenced by selected perceptual-motor abilities tested in a laboratory setting,


Fourteen (14) referees playing at various divisions of the Greek soccer league (mean age: 27.8 5.2, years of experience: 8.073.2) and 14 age-matched controls (mean age: 25.54.1) having no previous experience in sports were assessed in a series of perceptual-motor tests (VIENNA TEST SYSTEM, [4]) examining simple (SRT) and discrimination reaction time (DRT), sustained and selective attention (SUPERLAB PRO). The SRT test required subjects to press a bar key as soon as a change in the visual stimulus displayed on a computer screen ahead of them was detected. For the DRT test, subjects were required to respond only to one specific combination of visual stimuli. For the sustained attention test, a row of 7 triangles, pointing upward or downward was presented in the screen in irregular jumps. Subjects had to press the bar button as soon as they realized that three of the triangles were pointing downwards. The selective attention test required subjects to respond to relevant or irrelevant cues of a soccer match displayed momentarily on a computer screen. Differences between the groups in the mean and standard deviation (SD) of reaction time calculated over the series of critical stimuli and number of correct responses in the attention tests were analyzed using t-test comparisons for independent samples.


No significant between groups differences were noted in either simple or discrimination mean reaction times. However, soccer referees were more consistent in their responses in the DRT test as this was confirmed by the significantly lower SD values of DRT [p<0.05] when compared to the control group. The sustained attention test failed to reveal any significant differences in the performance of the two groups. On the other hand, soccer referees had a significantly greater number of correct responses [p>0.05] and a shorter reaction time [p<0.05] than the control group when responding to the relevant cues of the selective attention test. Responses to irrelevant cues were similar for both groups.


Examination of selected perceptual-motor skills tested in a laboratory setting revealed that soccer referees were superior and faster than untrained individuals in their ability to pick-up relevant information of soccer related events when these were displayed on a computer screen. On the other hand, they were no better than controls in their speed of motor response when this was tested under simple or discrimination visual stimuli conditions or in sustained attention. It is concluded that the use of more realistic field-based test protocols [5] implemented under conditions of stress and fatigue may be more appropriate to unravel the specific and complex perceptual-motor abilities required in soccer refereeing during match performance.


[1]. Krustrup P, Bangsbo J., 2001. J Sports Sci, 19(11):881-91
[2]. S. D’ Ottavio, C. Castagna, 2001. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 41:27-32
[3]. Johnston L, Mc Naughton L., 1994. Aust J Sci Med Sport, 26(3-4): 67-72
[4]. Schuhfried, 1996. Manuals of the Vienna Test Instrument Systems, Modling, Austria
[5]. Williams, 2000. J Sports Sci, 18:737-750



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