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Football Refs Wired And Tracked

Thursday 10 November 2005

Football Refs Wired And Tracked

Research looks at how physical, psychological pressures affect decision-making

TV broadcasters already wire referees for sound, but University of Otago researchers are going much further, hooking up New Zealand Football Championship referees to GPS transmitters and mobile heart rate monitors.

Dr Chris Button, Director of the Human Performance Centre at the School of Physical Education, and Dr David O’Hare from the Psychology Department have joined forces to learn more about the physical and psychological pressures faced by referees at the top level.

“Both the physical and psychological performance demands of athletes have been studied before but often in separate research,” says Dr Button.

“But one of the problems with past research is that it has never actually been done in the performance environment like this.”

Pilot research during 2004-2005 season showed that top referees in New Zealand are subject to similar physical demands as top grade European referees, says Dr Button.

“We used GPS units for those games but New Zealand Soccer came back and asked: How does the referee’s movements relate to the types of decisions they make? We couldn’t do that with GPS alone.”

Data is being gathered from referees at each of Otago United’s 10 home games during the championship, which runs from October this year until March 2006. The GPS units will record the position, the speed of movement, and the heart rates of the referees at one-second intervals throughout the game.

From this raw data it will be possible for the researchers to calculate other variables such as acceleration, frequency and distance of sprints, jogs or walks, and the percentage of time the referees spend in high, medium and low intensity exercise.

At the same time the match will also be videotaped so that several key incidents can be analysed and related back to the GPS and heart rate data.

“We will use an expert panel to rate the quality of the decision and then see how it relates to what the referee was physically doing at the time,” Dr Button explains.

“Was he in a good position to make the decision? Did he have to sprint to keep close to the incident? And was his heart rate high?

“Looking at all these factors together and relating the physical factors to the psychological ones is a really innovative aspect of this research.

The GPS transmitter is held on by a small harness while the heart monitor is held in place by a chest strap and only takes a minute or two to set-up, says Dr Button.

“From the outset we have wanted to avoid affecting their preparation or interfering with them in anyway during the game.”

Note: The next home game is 5.30pm this Saturday, 12 November 2005, at the Caledonian Ground.


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