How Blind Football Players Stay On The Ball

Out of sight, out of mind? Not quite—by rotating their heads, blind footballers can accurately track incoming balls.

AsianScientist (Dec. 23, 2020) – In blind football, subtle head rotations allow players to successfully receive a passed ball, according to a study by Japanese researchers. By directing their heads towards the approaching noise-making ball, blind footballers can accurately identify the ball’s direction. The team’s findings were published in Scientific Reports.

Starting out as a playground game for visually impaired school children, blind foothall has since grown into a sport in its own right. Every two years, the International Blind Sports Association organizes a World Championship and since 2004, the sport has been a mainstay at the Paralympics.

Played similarly to futsal, a football variation that takes place on a hard court instead of a grass pitch, all players in blind football are blindfolded—except for the goalkeeper. The ball is also modified to make a jingling or rattling noise, allowing the players to track the ball throughout the game.

In addition, players must verbally signal whenever they go for the ball to alert their teammates and opponents of their position within the court. While hearing is certainly crucial in blind football gameplay, no research so far has studied how exactly blind footballers can identify the direction of incoming balls.

To better understand the way visually impaired players are able to receive and control the ball, scientists at the University of Tsukuba recruited both experienced blind football players as well as sighted non-athlete volunteers for a game of blind football. Before the game, reflective markers were attached to each player’s body, with ten cameras deployed to monitor the markers. Each player was then tasked to trap an incoming rolling ball with their right foot while blindfolded.

Compared to the sighted non-athletes, the seasoned blind footballers showed a larger downward head rotation angle, as well as better overall performance. However, no significant differences were found in the horizontal rotation of the head or trunk. This indicates that blind footballers had to turn their heads to accurately localize the approaching ball.

Indeed, a similar strategy is used by professional baseball batters to ensure the ball’s consistent position relative to the head when batting. Meanwhile, because sighted individuals could use their vision to track the ball, they had little need for head rotations. The team’s work could offer insights into how visually impaired people complete daily tasks, and even contribute to the creation of new smart-assistant devices.

“Our study suggests that blind footballers are better at keeping the ball in a consistent egocentric direction relative to the head throughout the trapping process,” said lead author Professor Masahiro Kokubu. “Our results are consistent with previous findings that practice improves the ability to track sounds even in blind individuals who already do better than sighted people on this task.”

The article can be found at: Mieda & Kokubu (2020) Blind Footballers Direct Their Head Towards an Approaching Ball During Ball Trapping.


Source: University of Tsukuba; Photo illustration: Lam Oi Keat/Asian Scientist Magazine, Photo illustration adapted from Gaie Uchel/Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

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