What is it about?

Soccer players need to know about their own athletic ability, but they also need to know about opportunities for kicking that emerge in game situations. One common situation is kicking the ball so that it passes between two players. If the two players are far apart, kicking is easy, but if they are close together, it is more difficult. We asked whether players' perception of their ability to kick the ball between two other players would be affected by distance (how far away the other players were) but also by their role: Teammates, or Opponents. We found that players took into account both of these factors when deciding what size gap would be needed to kick between two other players. Critically, perception was jointly influence by the physical (distance) and social (role) variables, suggesting that participants perceived abilities that emerged from the interaction between those factors.

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Why is it important?

Traditionally, theories of perception have tended to assume that perception (in our case, vision) is sensitive to meaningless "bits and pieces", such as lines or colors, and that meaningful knowledge of the world is created in the mind. In such views, knowledge of our own abilities would be derived from mental processes, and not perceived, as such. Our study is part of a novel theoretical perspective in which it is claimed that we can have direct perceptual awareness of our own abilities. Kicking a ball through a gap is influenced by physical factors, such as gap distance: We can reliably get the ball through narrow gaps that are nearby, but need wider gaps to be successful when they are farther away. In soccer games, kicking success also will be influenced by social factors, such as whether nearby players are teammates (who won't interfere with the ball), or opponents (who may seek to intercept it). Thus, for kicking success, wider gaps are needed to get the ball past opponents than teammates. We found that these two factors interacted: The effects of kicking distance were greater when the ball was to be kick past two opponents than teammates .Our results suggest that perception may be sensitive to complex relations between multiple factors in terms of their influence on a person's action capabilities.


Often, "basic" research on perception is conducted in laboratory settings, using situations and manipulations that do not resemble things that we deal with in daily life. We chose to do our study outside the laboratory, in the ordinary setting of teen soccer. We looked at "real people", that is, actual soccer players, and we manipulated factors that actually matter in soccer: How far the ball must be kicked, and what other players may try to intercept a kick. Soccer is a fast sport in which kicking opportunities rapidly emerge and disappear. Players often must make split-second choices about whether to kick the ball. Our study suggests that perception (rather than mental processing) may provide direct, immediate, accurate information about a player's evolving options in real game situations.

Thomas Stoffregen
University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Perception of higher-order affordances for kicking in soccer., Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception & Performance, May 2023, American Psychological Association (APA), DOI: 10.1037/xhp0001108.
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