The Underrated Importance of Visual Behavior in Football

Soccer players on the field showcasing visual perception and decision-making skills.

Dive into the intricate relationship between a soccer player’s visual behavior and its influence on their cognitive processing. Through the groundbreaking research of Cardoso and his team, this article sheds light on how quick visual perception can impact decision-making on the field.

Read more: The Underrated Importance of Visual Behavior in Football

The Underrated Importance of Visual Behavior in Football

Soccer coaches continuously strive to enhance the performance of their players, both individually and as a cohesive unit, by focusing on core elements of the sport such as attack, defense, and transition. While every coach brings their unique perspective to this learning journey, myriad teaching theories abound. Yet, it’s crucial to underline the often-overlooked aspect of gaze and search behavior, both off and on the ball. These perceptual skills, as cited in various literature, play a pivotal role in decision-making. The logic is straightforward: once you’ve observed a situation, you can either anticipate or react to it, further processing this visual information in the brain. Studies have shown that elite players are adept at quickly discerning essential details, leading to more informed choices on the pitch.

Cardoso’s Deep Dive into Perceptual-Cognitive Processes

Cardoso and his team embarked on an exploration to understand the association between perceiving on-field situations and players’ response times. Their study titled, “The association between perceptual-cognitive processes and response time in decision making in young soccer players,” delves into the nuances of two distinct brain systems:

  • System 1, associated with our subconscious actions
  • System 2, responsible for conscious decision-making.

Nobel laureate, Professor Daniel Kahneman, describes System 1 as the Fast-Switch (quick processing) and System 2 as the Slow-Switch (gradual processing). To further comprehend primarily our subconscious actions (System 1), view the insightful explanation by Ben Tiggelaar here.

Research Methodology & Findings

To ascertain how swiftly the brain transitions from perception to action, Cardoso’s team engaged 90 young soccer players, aged 16 to 19. Using eye-tracking technology, the study assessed perceptual-cognitive processing and response times. Participants viewed 11 distinct clips from an 11v11 game, tasked with observing a specific player. Just before this player received the ball, the video paused, and participants had to promptly communicate the likely next actions and their reasoning to the instructors. Expert coaches later evaluated these responses.

A significant finding was that players with faster response times fixated longer on football-related visuals. These players exhibited reduced cognitive strain, showing a correlation with the executive skill of ‘planning’. Conclusions drawn highlighted that swifter decision-making, governed by System 1, suggests a heightened ability to employ visual search strategies and process information, leading to increased cognitive efficiency.

Practical Insights & Recommendations

Drawing from their findings, the researchers emphasize the need for training scenarios that present cognitive challenges, considering fixation duration and decision speed. Although Cardoso and his team do not specify the exact exercises, they hint at manipulating the time and space allotted to players during training. Seasoned soccer coaches might be familiar with this approach. While the findings may not be revolutionary, they reinforce the value of particular training drills, such as chaotic positional games or smaller 4v4 formats, pushing players towards faster decision-making.


Cardoso, F.D., Neves, J.A., Roca, A., & Teoldo, I. (2020). The association between perceptual-cognitive processes and response time in decision making in young soccer players. Journal of Sports Sciences, 39, 926 – 935. 

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