Eye Tracking in Sports Research

Eye Tracking Glasses used during ESPN Sports Science QB Special

Eye tracking is used as a tool in sports research to optimize athletic performance by studying eye tracking data and detecting flaws linked to attentional focus, trajectory estimations, visual search strategies or hand-eye coordination. In sport psychology eye tracking is used to study differences in mental processes between expert sports people and beginners.

With sponsorship deals for professional athletes reaching massive proportions, the stakes are higher and every aspect of a player’s game is scrutinized. The application of eye tracking as a component in sports research has consequently grown. Some of the leading sport research institutes use it as one standard methodology to understand fundamental technique flaws linked to hand-eye coordination and to optimize performance and visual search techniques. Eye tracking has been used as a tool in research of sports such as:

  • Football
  • Baseball
  • Tennis
  • Table Tennis
  • Basketball
  • Track Running
  • Dressage Riding
  • American Football
  • Mountain Biking
  • Hockey
  • Fencing
  • Golf

UCD School of Psychology runs extensive eye tracking research to understand the mental processes that distinguish expert tennis players and golf players from beginners. Their research will help coaches train the next generation tennis players and golfers.

Sports research has already established significant differences in gaze patterns between amateur and professional athletes. In football (soccer), for example, the goalie has to collect information about the direction of the ball prior to the kick during a penalty shoot-out; the difference in both focus direction and length is considerable. By assessing balance via the non-kicking leg, pro goalies gather better information than less experienced goalies who tend to look at hip and torso movements. Evidence shows that the time for collection of visual information, referred to as the latency response, is up to twice as long in pro athletes compared to their less experienced counterparts in many ball sports.

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Eye tracking has been used in visual assessment studies of moving balls, examining the complementary use of looming and disparity to determine trajectory, and more importantly the brain’s level of trust in visual assessment when either one is missing. Experienced athletes have a better ability to predetermine how a ball will bounce, which in turn makes them better at judging the optimal time to strike a ball in baseball, or strategically plan the trajectory in games like squash or basketball. Oculus, a research consultancy firm using eye tracking as a standard method, conducted eye tracking studies for the Slovenian national basketball team as preparations for the EuroBasket 2013.

ESPN Sport Science used eye tracking as a component in a number of lab studies, one being the Rookie Quarter Back Special. By looking at athletes’ gaze patterns in lab simulations, information was extracted about pro players’ search strategies, decision reflexes and information collection to call a play. Eye tracking can also be a great tool to assess on-field visual communication between players in sports such as American football, rugby and basketball.

 

Because eye movements directly affect sports performance, measuring an athlete’s innate attentional focus and trajectory estimation skills can play a vital role in talent recognition. Watching gaze videos from training sessions immediately reveal an athlete’s search strategies and, perhaps even more importantly, a lack thereof. Eye tracking can highlight differences in attentional focus in training vs. more stressful competitive environments. By detecting what is being done wrong, a trainer can more easily correct flaws with consistency training thereafter. More aspects about the key success factors in sports can be understood by comprehending how players perceive their surroundings on the field, especially so in team sports.

Tobii eye tracking solutions

Tobii’s range of eye trackers includes options for different studies and test scenarios. The Tobii Glasses Eye Tracker provides total freedom of movement for respondents in real-world environments. The discreet and ultra lightweight design of the Glasses ensures that respondents behave naturally. 

Tobii Studio eye tracking software provides efficient tools for qualitative and quantitative analysis and visualization of your data. Researchers who want to develop their own applications can download the Tobii Software Development Kit at no cost. Our in-house experts are accustomed to using eye tracking in sports research and can provide the eye tracking training and support you need.