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Visual Fitness > Introduction

Not surprisingly, given the intensity of a soccer match and the aggressive defensive play, players often lose the ball because of poor judgement about when to pass. Part of this process relates to the visual system and the ability of the player in possession to quickly sight the target while under pressure. (Meir, R. SCJ vol. 27, Aug 2005)

The Visual System
Linked to the proprioceptive centers of the brain, the visual system relies on the body's awareness of it's position in space. These systems provide the player with detailed information about what is going on in 'his or her external and internal environments.' The brain absorbs this information then tries to make sense of it such as the location of teammates, speed and direction that they are moving and where their feet are in relation to an oncoming ball.

The player then uses this information and interprets it in a way that allows him or her to act in the best way, based on experience and learning.
According to researchers at the University of Liverpool and the University of Manchester, an analysis of the players' reactions during a study demonstrated that the experienced players were far better at anticipating final-pass destinations and made significantly quicker responses, compared to their less-experienced counterparts. How were they able to do it? The eye-movement recorder showed that the experienced players conducted a more extensive visual search of the field of play as they watched the match. For one thing, they shifted their gaze from one part of the field to another about 25-per cent more often than their inexperienced peers.

Experienced players were also better at discerning relevant portions of the field of play. While inexperienced players fixated on the ball and the player actually passing the ball, experienced players focused on peripheral aspects of play, such as the movements of other players not in close contact with the ball - players who were moving into open areas of the field in which they might eventually receive a strategic pass.

The Liverpool-Manchester scientists recommended that football coaches show game films to their players while stopping the film frequently in order to highlight important 'off-ball' movements. As players learn to stop ball watching' and develop a knack for determining where everyone on the field is going, they will learn to anticipate play development. Then their only task will be to learn to make the right decision about how to stop or assist the ensuing attack on the goal.

 
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FACT FILE
High-quality players survey the field of play for clues about what their opponents will try to do in a manner which varies strikingly from the visual search patterns used by less-experienced performers. ('Visual Search Strategies in Experienced and Inexperienced Soccer Players,' Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, vol. 65(2), pp. 127-135, 1994)
TOP TIP
The Liverpool-Manchester scientists recommended that football coaches show game films to their players while stopping the film frequently in order to highlight important 'off-ball' movements