How eye tracking enhances referee training

  • by Imola Szebényi
  • 7 min

Training Karate athletes

I am a Hungarian-German karate professional. Throughout my years of practice, I’ve noticed differences in how referees judge and decided to take a closer look at what they pay attention to. My goal was not to point out individual weaknesses but to try and support the training of referees and my karate students as they prepare for tournaments.

For the study, I used Tobii eye tracking glasses to record and analyze the visual behavior of referees as they judged national and international championships. And I based the study on katas, which are a set of predefined moves performed in a sequence.

Key insights from the eye tracking study

1) Different referees pay attention to different details

I found a discrepancy among the different referees and how each one evaluated the seven most important criteria when performing a kata. Not all judges focussed where they should have been, and athletes, who in general performed well, were judged more harshly than others. The study also showed that one experienced referee often anticipated where to look even before the next move happened! This is a skill other referees could learn.

2) Eye tracking can improve referee training

When I talked to the referees, it was clear that they all knew where to look, but they still ended up looking elsewhere. Using eye tracking as a methodology enabled me to deliver objective insights that could optimize the training of referees and improve the standards of judging and fairness of competition. Once I had analyzed the data generated by Tobii’s glasses, I was able to show the referees what they looked at and how fatigue impacted their judgment.

I wanted to share the findings from my master's thesis as educational material to raise awareness about how people judge and implement a project to raise objectivity and alignment among referees.

One of the benefits of using Tobii glasses was the possibility to show the referees that they are human, that they get tired, and can lose their focus after watching the same kinds of movements for several hours. They need more breaks since the tournaments can go on all day until midnight. I look forward to continuing to work with the referees and supporting them in improving with a deeper understanding of how they observe kata competitors.
Imola Szebényi, karate professional

The study details

Twenty-one kata referees from five countries with different license levels participated in the study and wore Tobii glasses while judging national and international kata championships.

The referees looked at technical performance and athletic displays, giving points for stances, transitional movements, correct breathing, and several other factors.

I recorded more than 2,000 videos and used Tobii Pro Lab to analyze the data and evaluate the participants.

I followed up with a questionnaire asking the referees for their feedback about the usability of Tobii glasses and whether they thought they could learn from the data. The general feedback was that they loved using the wearable eye trackers and thought they were a great tool for education and training.

Tobii Glasses gave me unique insights I otherwise would not have been able to obtain. Being able to see through the eyes of the referees and truly understand how each individual judged and how the environment affected them was extraordinary.
Karate referees

Eye tracking in sports research and sports performance

This karate study is just one example of how eye tracking can be used in sports to train referees and athletes. Eye tracking is a unique method to objectively and accurately record and analyze visual behavior, which is useful in training in sports and many other fields. The technology generates new insights into the cognitive processes underlying a wide variety of human behavior and can help improve individual and team performance.

  • Wearables
  • Training and skills assessment

Written by

  • Imola Szebényi, head coach - karate professional

    Imola Szebényi

    Karate professional and owner of 1. Shotokan Karate Club Frankenthal

    Hi, I am a Hungarian-German karate professional and I've been practicing karate since early childhood. Today, I teach children, teens, and anyone interested in the popular martial arts practice in my own Dojo — 1. Shotokan Karate Club Frankenthal.

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