The relationship between amount and timing of visual exploratory activity and performance of elite soccer players

Simone Caso */**, John Van Der Kamp *, Pieter Morel ** and Geert Savelsbergh *

(*) Department of Human Movement Sciences, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
(**) Department of Analytics Football, AFC Ajax, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Caso, S., Van Der Kamp, J., Morel, P., Savelsbergh, G. (2023). The relationship between amount and timing of visual exploratory activity and performance of elite soccer players. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 54(4), 287-304. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2023.54.287


Objective: Visual exploratory activities (VEA) refer to head and body movements that soccer players make prior to receiving the ball to discover possibilities for action. The current study investigated the degree to which the amount and timing of VEA relates to performance and is influenced by player position. Method: Using pre-recorded video-footage of matches, the VEA of elite soccer players (n = 72) playing in national professional leagues were analyzed with respect to amount (i.e., in number/s) and timing (i.e., during the penultimate and final pass prior to ball reception) for different player positions (i.e., lines and axes). ANOVAs were used to compare the amount of VEA as a function of its timing and player position, and hierarchical stepwise regression analyses were conducted to examine the degree to which VEA predicts subsequent performance (i.e., adequate ball contact, passes, dribbling actions and shooting). Results: Elite players showed more VEA in the final pass than in the penultimate pass, and midfielders showed more VEA than players in other lines. In addition, the amount of VEA during the penultimate pass predicted the adequacy of the subsequent pass. The amount of VEA during the final pass did not significantly contribute to this. Conclusion: In elite soccer players, the amount of VEA systematically varies according to the spatial and temporal unfolding of the play and is positively related to subsequent performance. VEA supports the early perception of the possibilities for action.

Keywords: Visual exploratory activity, soccer, anticipation, affordances, deci- sion making