What a Professional Athlete Sees

A time ago we came across this video of Cristiano Ronaldo, put on youtube by “Ergoneers”. It might not be the most recent video anymore. But with a.o. the use of this video, we would like to evaluate the differences in eye movement between professional and amateur athletes.

Video by Ergoneers: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9YJVAG2t_Wr76Gp70HhV7Q

So what did you just see? The researchers in this video are measuring the spatial awareness of Cristiano Ronaldo using eye-movement trackers in a 1 v 1 situation. We would think that soccer players mainly focus on the ball, and as shown in the video they do focus a lot on the ball. However, the researchers in this video also noticed that a fair amount of time Ronaldo his eyes were focused on the field behind the defender and the defenders’ feet. Some other very interesting focussing points were the hips and knees of the defender. By watching the hips and knees of the defender, Ronaldo is predicting what the defender his next move will going to be. This way Ronaldo can be one step ahead of the defender. When they analyze the movements of the amateur soccer player, it is shown that the amateur soccer player only focuses on the ball. He doesn’t have the ability to predict Ronaldo his movements by looking at his joints. Besides he couldn’t even follow the ball easily because Ronaldo made 13 moves in 8 seconds!

What has been said above applies to a 1 v 1 situation, in a laboratory setting. But how is this visual fixation in an 11 v 11 elite soccer match play? A team of researchers in Norway used eye-tracking with elite players in a real-world 11 v 11 soccer game. They also found that when the ball is near a player, there are more fixation points on the opponent than on the ball. This is especially the case when a player is defending compared to attacking. The figure below shows the percentage of viewing time in (A) defense and (B) attack for the different areas of interest which respectively are: 0 (open space), 1 (teammate), 2 (opponent), and 3 (ball).

Percentage of viewing time in defense (A) and attack (B) as a function of areas of interest and distance from the research by Aksum et al.

Another interesting result they found is that the more areas of interest respectively the teammate, opponent, or ball are in their foveal vision, the longer the fixation duration was.

Overall it is shown that professional athletes are more effective in their visual focus. Professional athletes focus on more relevant areas compared to amateur athletes. This is not only the case in soccer, as we have shown above. But this also applies to other sports such as tennis, handball, and volleyball. The differences in fixation points and spatial awareness also leads to the fact that professional athletes are better at anticipating the next moves of an opponent. Another article analyzed the differences in visual strategy in professional and amateur handball goalkeepers. Goalkeeping demands a high level of anticipation, as we also saw in the previous article about reaction time. With high anticipation levels, the goalkeepers can predict what will occur. The researchers in this article found that, during the phase prior to the throw from 7 meters towards to handball goalkeeper, professional goalkeepers have a lot more fixation points than amateur goalkeepers. This means that professional goalkeepers have a bigger perceptive capacity than amateur goalkeepers. Besides they found that the professional goalkeepers focus more on the arm and ball of the thrower and the amateur goalkeepers focus more on the face of the thrower.

All of these articles and findings are very interesting and show us how important cognitive abilities are to athletes and that these cognitive abilities do not stop at reaction time and working memory, but should also include visual and spatial awareness. With our software tool, we want to give everyone the opportunity to perform at their best by improving these cognitive abilities.


  • Youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsCokWHGLXc
  • Aksum, K.M., Magnaguagno, L., Bjorndal, C.T., Jordet, G. (2020). What Do Football Players Look at? An Eye-Tracking Analysis of the Visual Fixations of Players in 11 v 11 Elite Football Match play.
  • Rivilla-Garcia, J., Munoz, A., Grande, I., Almenara, M.S., Sampedro, J. (2013). A comparative analysis of visual strategy in elite and amateur handball goalkeepers.

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Marcello Sala

  • Business Innovation Manager & Content Manager
  • Current Study: MSc Innovation Management – TU/e

During recent years, I became more aware that a vast majority of technological advancements are not put to their full use in the current society. Some reasons for this are the fear of change that a lot of people experience, the lack of knowledge and awareness of the newest applications and because the existing infrastructure cannot keep up with the speed of technological innovation. Therefore, my goal is to inform people about the newest possibilities of the technology of this time and the added value these advancements can have to their daily life by making seemingly complicated technologies easy to use and understand for everyone. This is also why I decided to join Aristotle. I believe that there is still a lot of ground to cover in cognitive training and that we as Aristotle can make a difference.

Dirk Aarts

  • UX/UI Manager & Assistant Software Developer
  • Current Study: MSc Human-Technology Interaction – TU/e

I have a background in Automotive Engineering at Fontys and after completing the pre-master at the start of last year, I started the master. Due to the current global pandemic, the international semester had been cancelled. As an alternative, I knew I wanted to do something pro-active and work on a practical project instead of following more theoretical courses, and the TU/e Innovation Space project could offer just that. At Aristotle I can apply and broaden my knowledge of cognition, combined with a diverse multidisciplinary team there is a lot for me to learn! Together with Aristotle, I believe we can explore and create effective cognitive training tools and lift athletes to the next level both personally and professionally.

Antonios Mantzaris

  • Data Scientist & Software Developer
  • Current Study: MSc Data Science – EIT Digital Master School

I have the luck to study in two of the top universities in Europe, TU/e in Eindhoven and KTH in Stockholm and also get a minor in Entrepreneurship besides the Data Science track. I would describe myself as analytical, organizing and pragmatic. I joined Aristotle to get out of my comfort zone, develop my personal skills in social and technical aspects but also implement my knowledge attained from my studies so far in a real-life problem, in realistic conditions. I believe we can really make an impact with innovative ideas and tools but also highlight the advantages of cognitive training in football or in general.