Gaze behaviour in offside decision-making in football

A field study
  • Urs Schnyder
  • Johan M. Koedijker
  • Ralf Kredel
  • Ernst-Joachim Hossner
Main Articles


The current study aims to determine the relationship between gaze characteristics and decision-making of expert and near-expert assistant referees in judging offside in football. Six assistant referees with different levels of expertise judged set-played offside scenes on the football field, while their gaze behaviour was measured with a mobile eye tracker. The location of gaze, numbers of fixations and temporal characteristics of the final fixation around the decisive pass were analysed to compare the two expertise levels and response accuracies. Expert assistant referees judged more offside situations correctly than near-experts, however, without any differences in gaze patterns. Irrespective of expertise, decision accuracy was higher for trials in which the assistant referees focussed on the offside line rather than on receiving attackers or one of the other defenders at the moment of the pass. Moreover, strong trends were observed for the positive effects of an overall “quiet” gaze behaviour and, in particular, of long final fixations on correct decisions. Thus, maintaining a stable gaze on the offside line around the moment of the decisive pass should be regarded as a superior strategy for assistant referees to optimise decision-making.


Referees Sports officiating Eye movements Soccer Error decisions 

Blickverhalten bei Abseitsentscheidungen im Fußball

Eine Feldstudie


Ziel der aktuellen Studie ist es, die Beziehung zwischen dem Blickverhalten und der Entscheidungsfindung von hochkompetenten und weniger kompetenten Schiedsrichterassistenten bei der Abseitsentscheidung im Fußball zu bestimmen. Sechs Schiedsrichterassistenten mit unterschiedlichen Kompetenzniveaus beurteilten Standard-Abseitssituationen auf dem Fußballfeld, während ihr gesamtes Blickverhalten mittels eines mobilen Eyetrackers erfasst wurde. Die Blickposition, die Anzahl der Blickfixierungen und die zeitlichen Charakteristika der letzten Blickfixierung zur Zeit des entscheidenden Passes wurden analysiert, um die beiden Kompetenzniveaus sowie die Entscheidungsgenauigkeit zu vergleichen. Hochkompetente Schiedsrichterassistenten beurteilten mehr Abseitssituationen korrekt als weniger kompetente, jedoch ohne Unterschiede in den Blickmustern. Unabhängig von der Kompetenz war die Genauigkeit der Entscheidungen höher bei den Versuchen, in welchen sich die Schiedsrichterassistenten zur Zeit des Passes auf die Abseitslinie anstatt auf die angespielten Angreifer oder auf einen der anderen Verteidiger konzentrierten. Darüber hinaus wurde eine starke Tendenz für positive Effekte eines insgesamt „leisen“ Blickverhaltens und insbesondere einer langen letzten Blickfixierung auf die Entscheidung beobachtet. Daher sollte das Aufrechterhalten eines stabilen Blicks auf die Abseitslinie zur Zeit des entscheidenden Passes als eine überlegene Strategie für Schiedsrichterassistenten angesehen werden, um die Entscheidungsfindung zu optimieren.


Schiedsrichter Offiziellentätigkeit im Sport Augenbewegungen Fußball Fehlentscheidungen 



The authors thank the U21 team of FC Thun under the responsibility of Rüdiger Böhm for the well-played offside scenes.

Compliance with ethical guidelines

Conflict of interest

U. Schnyder, J.M. Koedijker,R. Kredel and E.-J. Hossner declare that they have no competing interests.

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


  1. Alais, D., & Burr, D. (2003). The “flash-lag” effect occurs in audition and cross-modally. Current Biology, 13, 59–63. doi: 10.1016/S0960-9822(02)01402-1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Baldo, M. V. C., & Klein, S. A. (1995). Extrapolation or attention shift? Nature, 378, 565–566. doi: 10.1038/378566a0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Baldo, M. V. C., Ranvaud, R. D., & Morya, E. (2002). Flag errors in soccer games: the flashlag effect brought to real life. Perception, 31, 1205–1210. doi: 10.1068/p3422.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Bard, C., Fleury, M., Carrière, L., & Hallé, M. (1980). Analysis of gymnastics judges’ visual search. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 51, 267–273. doi: 10.1080/02701367.1980.10605195.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Belda Maruenda, F. (2004). Can the human eye detect an offside position during a football match? British Medical Journal, 329, 1470–1472. doi: 10.1136/bmj.329.7480.1470.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Catteeuw, P., Helsen, W., Gilis, B., Van Roie, E., & Wagemans, J. (2009). Visual scan patterns and decision-making skills of expert assistant referees in offside situations. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31, 786–797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Catteeuw, P., Gilis, B., García-Aranda, J. M., Tresaco, F., Wagemans, J., & Helsen, W. (2010a). Offside decision-making in the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cups. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28, 1027–1032. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2010.491084.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Catteeuw, P., Gilis, B., Wagemans, J., & Helsen, W. (2010b). Offside decision-making of assistant referees in the English Premier League: impact of physical and perceptual-cognitive factors on match performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 28, 471–481. doi: 10.1080/02640410903518184.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Dicks, M., Button, C., & Davids, K. W. (2010). Examination of gaze behaviours under in situ and video simulation task constraints reveals differences in information pickup for perception and action. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 72, 706–720. doi: 10.3758/APP.72.3.706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Eagleman, D. M., & Sejnowski, T. (2007). Motion signals bias localization judgements: a unified explanation for the flash-lag, flash-drag, flash-jump, and Frohlich illusions. Journal of Vision, 7, 3. doi: 10.1167/7.4.3.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. FIFA (2015). Laws of the game. Zürich: FIFA.Google Scholar
  12. Gilis, B., Helsen, W., Catteeuw, P., & Wagemans, J. (2008). Offside decisions by expert referees in association football: perception and recall of spatial positions in complex dynamic events. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 14, 21–35. doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.14.1.21.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Gilis, B., Helsen, W., Catteeuw, P., Van Roie, E., & Wagemans, J. (2009). Interpretation and application of the offside law by expert assistant referees: Perception of spatial positions in complex dynamic events on and off the field. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27, 551–563. doi: 10.1080/02640410802702178.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Hancock, D. J., & Ste-Marie, D. M. (2013). Gaze behaviours and decision-making accuracy of higher-and lower-level ice hockey referees. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14, 66–71. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2012.08.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Helsen, W., Gilis, B., & Weston, M. (2006). Errors in judging “offside” in association football: test of the optical error versus the perceptual flash-lag hypothesis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 24, 521–528. doi: 10.1080/02640410500298065.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hüttermann, S., Memmert, D., & Simons, D. J. (2014). The size and shape of the attentional “spotlight” varies with differences in sports expertise. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 20, 147–157. doi: 10.1037/xap0000012.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Khurana, B., & Nijhawan, R. (1995). Extrapolation or attention shift? (reply to Baldo & Klein). Nature, 378, 566.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kumar, N., Kohlbecher, S., & Schneider, E. (2009). A novel approach to video-based pupil tracking. In SMCS (Ed.), IEEE International conference on systems, man and cybernetics (pp. 1255–1262). San Antonio: IEEE.Google Scholar
  19. Macmillan, N. A., & Creelman, C. D. (2005). Detection theory: a user’s guide. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  20. Mann, D. T. Y., Williams, A. M., Ward, P., & Janelle, C. M. (2007). Perceptual-cognitive expertise in sport: a meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 29, 457–478.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Moore, L. J., Vine, S. J., Cooke, A., Ring, C., & Wilson, M. R. (2012). Quiet eye training expedites motor learning and aids performance under heightened anxiety: the roles of response programming and external attention. Psychophysiology, 49, 1005–1015. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-8986.2012.01379.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Nijhawan, R. (1994). Motion extrapolation in catching. Nature, 370, 256–257. doi: 10.1038/370256b0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Nijhawan, R. (2001). The flash-lag phenomenon: object motion and eye movements. Perception, 30, 263–282. doi: 10.1068/p3172.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Norton, K. I., Craig, N. P., & Olds, T. S. (1999). The evolution of Australian football. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2, 389–404. doi: 10.1016/S1440-2440(99)80011-5.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Oudejans, R. R. D., Verheijen, R., Bakker, F. C., Gerrits, J. C., Steinbrückner, M., & Beek, P. J. (2000). Errors in judging “offside” in football. Nature, 404, 33. doi: 10.1038/35003639.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Oudejans, R. R. D., Bakker, F. C., Verheijen, R., Gerrits, J. C., Steinbrückner, M., & Beek, P. J. (2005). How position and motion of expert assistant referees in soccer relate to the quality of their offside judgements during actual game play. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 36, 3–21.Google Scholar
  27. Oudejans, R. R. D., Bakker, F. C., & Beek, P. J. (2007). Helsen, Gillis and Weston (2006) err in testing the optical error hypothesis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 25, 987–990. doi: 10.1080/02640410600778610.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Philippe, F. L., Vallerand, R. J., Andrianarisoa, J., & Brunel, P. (2009). Passion in referees: examining their affective and cognitive experiences in sport situations. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 31, 77–96.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Put, K., Baldo, M. V., Cravo, A., Wagemans, J., & Helsen, W. (2013). Experts in offside decision making learn to compensate for their illusory perceptions. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 35, 576–584.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Rainey, D. W. (1995). Stress, burnout, and intention to terminate among umpires. Sciences, 7, 41–63.Google Scholar
  31. Sanabria, J., Cenjor, C., Marquez, F., Gutierrez, R., Martinez, D., & Prados-Garcia, J. L. (1998). Oculomotor movements and football’s Law 11. Lancet, 351, 268. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(05)78269-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Smeets, J. B., Hayhoe, M. M., & Ballard, D. H. (1996). Goal-directed arm movements change eye-head coordination. Experimental Brain Research, 109, 434–440. doi: 10.1007/BF00229627.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Taylor, A. H., Daniel, J. V., Leith, L., & Burke, R. J. (1990). Perceived stress, psychological burnout and paths to turnover intentions among sport officials. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 2, 84–97. doi: 10.1080/10413209008406422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Vickers, J. N. (2016). Origins and current issues in Quiet Eye research. Current Issues in Sport Science, 1, 101.
  35. Whitney, D. (2002). The influence of visual motion on perceived position. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, 5, 211–216. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(02)01887-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Urs Schnyder
    • 1
  • Johan M. Koedijker
    • 1
    • 2
  • Ralf Kredel
    • 1
  • Ernst-Joachim Hossner
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Sport ScienceUniversity of BernBernSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Human Movement Sciences, Faculty of Behavioural and Movement Sciences, MOVE Research Institute AmsterdamVrije Universiteit AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations