The hidden foundation of field vision in English Premier League(EPL) soccer players

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Professional team sports are extremely information rich, dynamic and complex, which may provide players with fast and accurate field vision decisive competitive advantages. What then are the underlying processes that make some professional players appear to have better field vision than others? The purpose of this study was to learn more about the ways that some of the best professional soccer players in the world use visual exploratory behaviors (body and head movements initiated to better see their surroundings) in real-world games and to test the relationships between these behaviors and performance. Close-up video images of individual players were obtained from Sky Sport’s split screen PlayerCam broadcasts of 1279 game situations with 118 players (midfielders and forwards) in English Premier League (EPL) soccer games. The results show a clear positive relationship between visual exploratory behaviors that are initiated before receiving the ball and performance with the ball. The best players explore more frequently than others and there is a positive relationship between exploratory behavior frequency and pass completion. The impact of exploratory behaviors is the largest for midfielders performing forward passes. These behaviors may have been off the radar for coaches, scouts and fans, and practical implications are offered.

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