Deciphering free kicks in football

Deciphering free kicks in football


Outline, including interdisciplinary dimension

In football, free kick scenarios represent exciting, potential game-winning opportunities. This is perfectly illustrated by David Beckham’s last minute decider in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup. Recent work shows that goalkeepers have particular difficulties with the spinning, curved free kick Beckham used to produce (Dessing & Craig, 2010), because the human visual system is not particularly sensitive to the spin-induced sideward acceleration. This primary aim of this project is to examine in more detail how this and other factors influence goalkeeper behaviour. First of all, one may ask whether the effects of spin in the horizontal dimension generalize to the vertical dimension, because gravity is ever present in the vertical dimension. This is not a given: goalkeepers anecdotally have troubles with dipping free kicks, which bend due to top-spin. Another factor that will influence goalkeeper movements is the location of the posts; goalkeepers do not need to block balls that go far wide and awareness of the location of the goal posts will help avoid unneeded displacements. Thirdly, goalkeepers perform a complex visuomotor task in the presence of visual distractors (players moving on the field), which may in fact become relevant to the goalkeepers task if they touch the ball. The role of these factors will be examined in different virtual reality (VR) experiments. Besides an improved understanding of the perceptuomotor abilities of goalkeepers, these studies may inform improvements in training procedures. Specifically, this project will inform the design of a VR-based training simulator for goalkeepers. Such a training simulator can include uncountable free kicks scenarios, which can be tightly controlled and frequently repeated, something that is impossible in training with actual kickers, or ball projectors.

To support this application, the project will include an experiment that explicitly examines the training benefit of goalkeeping in our VR environment.

Key words/descriptors

football, perception-action, expertise, hand-eye coordination, interception, online control, virtual reality, training

First supervisor

Dr Joost C Dessing - School of Psychology

Secondary supervisor from a complementary discipline

Professor Cathy Craig - School of Psychology

Supervisors’ track record of PhD completions, plus excellence and international standing in the project area

Dr. Dessing co-supervised one PhD student when he a post-doc in Amsterdam and currently has a PhD student who just started year 3 of her PhD project. Prof. Craig has successfully supervised over 6 PhD students to completion. Our joint paper in 2010 (Dessing & Craig, 2010; PLoS One) is seminal in the field, highly cited, and provides a starting point for the project proposed here.

Intersectoral exposure and/or international mobility

(e.g. secondments to/collaboration with partner organizations)

This project is interdisciplinary in its essence. Dr. Dessing is trained as a human movement scientist, which means he has expertise in behavioural science, neuroscience, physics, and computer science. This is complemented by Prof. Craig's, who is recognized as one of the world leaders in using virtual reality to study aspects of sport including decisions about how and when to act. The potential collaboration with Drs. Kulpa and Bideau of Rennes 2 University (France) strengthens the multidisciplinary character, because these researchers are experts in engineering for sports.

Describe briefly the international profile of the partner

Dr. Dessing has international collaborations with Prof. Katja Fiehler of Giessen University (Germany) and Profs. Beek and Daffertshofer (VU University Amsterdam, The Netherlands). Prof. Craig has extensive ongoing collaborations within the UK (Professors David Lee and Madeleine Grealy and Drs Stuart Ferguson, Joe Butterfield, and Mark Linden) and internationally (Professor Reinoud Bootsma and Drs. Sile O'Modhrain, Gert-Jan Pepping, and Jenny Coull).

Training that will be provided through the research project itself

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the project, the PhD student will receive a multi-facetted training. Basic science skills include ethics, research design, data analysis and statistics, and report writing. Beyond this, the project heavily depends on computer programming and physics modelling/simulations, which the students will thus gain expertise with.    

Examples of additional training in non-research transferable skills

Any science training results in transferrable skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, writing, time-management, and public speaking. The project exceeds these basic transferrable skills in that its ultimate application lies in a potential commercial product. Rather than producing the product before knowing whether it works (as is often done), the project follows a knowledge-centred approach. The student will thus learn the benefits of such an approach to product design.

Expected dissemination of results: peer-reviewed journals, seminars, workshop and conferences at European/international level

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

The PhD project is projected to result in 3-4 peer-reviewed journal articles. In addition, the PhD student will attend an international conference at least once annually in the last two years of the project.

Expected impact activities

(e.g. public talks, visits to schools, open days, QUB impact showcase)

Due to the popularity of football with the general public, this project lends itself perfectly for popular scientific applications and outreach activities. This is expected to occur through demonstrations at Northern Ireland Science Festival and QUB open days, presentations for the general public, a project website, and the creation of video summaries of the different studies. In addition, the project will involve visits to football clubs to demonstrate VR system (partially for recruitment and possibly to demonstrate of the training simulator). 

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