Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Soccer Fights Depression

Despite being a significant risk group, young men are amongst those least likely to seek professional help when mentally distressed or suicidal. The 'Back of the Net' programme, a pilot initiative using football (called soccer in the U.S.) and cognitive behavioural based techniques was effective in decreasing symptoms of depression in young men. Such programmes may offer a highly accessible and cost-effective alternative route to mental health promotion in this challenging target group.

These findings were reported by Siobhain McArdle from Dublin City University to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society's Division of Clinical Psychology, on December 11, held at the Congress Centre in London, England.

Dr McArdle and her colleagues studied 104 sedentary males aged between 18 and 40. The men were assigned to three groups: some undertook individual exercise, some took part in a group that played football and followed a cognitive behavioural based therapy (CBT) programme, and a control group that did no exercise. The football plus CBT group incorporated the "Back of the Net" intervention, which makes use of football metaphors. This involved both participation in conditioned football sessions and interactions within each session to facilitate the transfer of lessons from the sport context into everyday life (i.e., problem solving, communication, goal setting).

The participants in the three groups were evaluated before, during and after the intervention and again eight weeks later. They found that the participants who had taken part in the exercise programmes showed significantly lower symptoms of depression (a key factor associated with suicide risk in young men). Dr McArdle says: "The two physical activity based interventions were both effective in reducing symptoms of depression in young men.

However, the "Back of the Net" intervention was specifically designed to use a low-barrier vehicle for mental health promotion. This was achieved using a popular sport to take mental health promotion onto their turf. Future research should continue to explore community-based interventions with young men that combines exercise and cognitive behavioural therapy interventions.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Goalkeeper's Movements and Penalty Kicks

Knowing Goalkeeper’s Movements in a Penalty Increases Success Rate and Reduces Kicker’s Decision Time

A study shows that knowing the anticipatory movements of a goalkeeper before kicking the penalty reduces the decision time and increases the success rate when choosing the direction of the shot in football (soccer). The results, extracted from the second paper by researcher F. Javier Núñez Sánchez from the University Pablo Olavide (UPO), which he wrote for his thesis, have recently been published in the scientific journal Perceptual and Motor Skills.

This research, developed by the group for Analysis of Human Movement, lead by Professor Antonio Oña of the University of Granada, has analysed the elements that interact during a penalty shootouts, including the movements and the response and reaction of the goalkeeper and the speed of the decision of the kicker when deciding the direction of the shot. According to their results, by studying the position of the goalkeeper in the instant immediately before the shot may significantly increase the probabilities of selecting a successful direction for the shot and reduces, in turn, the time of this decision process.

In the first phase, the researcher studied the movements of the goalkeeper during a penalty shootout. Among the findings, published in the International Journal of Sport Psychology in 2005, he stresses that all the goalkeepers begin their final movement instants before the player kicks that ball because, otherwise, they would not manage to reach it. These signals were named "movement pre-indexes," and help us know, in the exact moment when the player takes his last step before shooting, if the goalkeeper will jump towards his right or left before hitting the ball.

Once the aspects regarding the goalkeeper have been detected, a second phase of the study analysed the ability of the football player to decide if to hit the ball towards the right or left, in this short space of time. They also observed if it was effective or not to show the movement pre-indexes to increase success. They used a sample of 20 individuals for this study. These were later divided into four sub-groups (two control groups and two experimental groups), depending on whether the players were experts or inexperienced, i.e. those who occasionally play football and for leisure. The participants underwent two tests using a life-size projection of the goalkeepers and where the players had to simulate their penalty shot.

The professionals and the inexperienced

In the results obtained in the first test they did not find significant results between the experienced players and the inexperienced ones. However, different results were obtained after the test. After the initial test, the experimental groups watched a video that clearly explained the goalkeeper's movement pre-indexes. "During the informative film we explained where to focus, noting that when the kicker takes the last step before the penalty, he should direct the shot towards the area where the goalkeeper has the most extended knee, since he will shift towards the opposite side," states Javier Núñez.

In this sense, the decision time of the expert players in the experimental group passed from 275 to 189 milliseconds. By contrast, this decrease was barely significant in the control groups that did not receive the information on the movement pre-indexes.

As regards to the glances, the researchers registered in both tests, by means of an eye tracking system, the point in which the participants eyes were fixed before deciding the direction of the shot. In order to do this, they divided the goalkeeper's body in four sections (head-shoulders, torso, waist-knee and knee-foot). By means of this data they observed that during the first test their glances were, more or less, equally distributed. After viewing the explanations over 95% of the glances of the experimental groups were concentrated on area 3. Specifically, it is in this area, that the researchers, best observe where the goalkeeper extends his knee.
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Why England's soccer team keeps losing on penalties

A new study may explain why the England soccer team keeps losing in penalty shootouts – and could help the team address the problem in time for the World Cup 2010. Research by the University of Exeter shows for the first time the effect of anxiety on a footballer's eye movements while taking a penalty.

IMAGE: Dr. Mark Wilson (L) with member of University of Exeter football team testing eye movement in penalty shoot outs.

The study shows that when penalty takers are anxious they are more likely to look at and focus on the centrally positioned goalkeeper. Due to the tight coordination between gaze control and motor control, shots also tend to centralise, making them easier to save. The research is now published in the December 2009 edition of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology.

The researchers attribute this change in eye movements and focus to anxiety. Author Greg Wood of the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences said: "During a highly stressful situation, we are more likely to be distracted by any threatening stimuli and focus on them, rather than the task in hand. Therefore, in a stressful penalty shootout, a footballer's attention is likely to be directed towards the goalkeeper as opposed to the optimal scoring zones (just inside the post). This disrupts the aiming of the shot and increases the likelihood of subsequently hitting the shot towards the goalkeeper, making it easier to save."

For their study, the researchers focused on 14 members of the University of Exeter football (soccer) team. They asked the players to perform two series of penalty shots. First, they were simply asked to do their best to score. The researchers made the second series more stressful and more akin to a penalty shoot-out. The players were told that the results would be recorded and shared with the other players and there would be a £50 prize for the best penalty taker.

The players wore special glasses which enabled the researchers to record precise eye movements and analyse the focus of each footballer's gaze and the amount of time spent looking at different locations in the goal.

The results showed that when anxious, the footballers looked at the goalkeeper significantly earlier and for longer. This change in eye behaviour made players more likely to shoot towards the centre of the goal, making it easier for the keeper to save. The researchers believe that by being made aware of the impact of anxiety on eye movements, and the affect this has on the accuracy of a player's shot, coaches could address this through training.

Greg Wood continues: "Research shows that the optimum strategy for penalty takers to use is to pick a spot and shoot to it, ignoring the goalkeeper in the process. Training this strategy is likely to build on the tight coordination between eye movements and subsequent actions, making for more accurate shooting. The idea that you cannot recreate the anxiety a penalty taker feels during a shootout is no excuse for not practicing. Do you think other elite performers don't practice basic aiming shots in darts, snooker or golf for the same reasons? These skills need to be ingrained so they are robust under pressure".

Anxiety, Attentional Control, and Performance Impairment in Penalty Kicks