Bachelor's Thesis

Assessing Gaze Behavior of Athletes in Virtual Reality

Markus Wirth (M.Sc.), Prof. Dr. Jochen Klucken (UKE)

12/2019 – 05/2020


Superior anticipation and decision-making are characteristics of successful team athletes [1].
They are capable of more accurate predictions on future events, in particular based on superior
recognition of postural orientation of opponents and faster pattern and structure recognition in
decisive situations [2]. To analyze and hence quantify such perceptual processes, eye-tracking has
been used as a method to examine the gaze behavior of athletes. Current research shows that
state-of-the-art mobile eye-tracking glasses are not fully reliable because of different disruptive
factors like bad light conditions or missing tracking data caused by fast movements [3]. Therefore,
different technology approaches should be explored, to compensate these issues and provide a
reliable alternative to current mobile eye-tracking devices.
Recent advances in virtual reality (VR) hardware technology have brought this immersive medium
to a broad acceptance with a major interest also coming from the area of healthcare and sports
[5]. VR provides immersive computer-simulated environments to the user by enabling depth
perception based on stereoscopic vision. In sports, this can be applied to assess and train athletes
under real-world conditions and reduce injury risks at the same time. Especially for the assessment
and training of mental strength and cognitive skills of athletes, researchers could show that VR is
a promising tool [5].
Applying eye-tracking for VR sport simulations-based assessment of athletes yields great potential
due to several reasons. First, computer-generated environments are fully controllable and hence
undesired effects and distractors can be avoided; Second, the reproducibility of the simulation is
extremely high, meaning that every athlete experiences the same conditions which facilitates a
valid comparison of results; Third, HMD integrated eye-tracking systems are less disruptive to
negative influencing factors like changing light conditions and thus are expected to ensure data
reliability; Fourth, a more sophisticated mapping of the eye-tracking data can be achieved, since
every object within the virtual environment is known and can be related to the gaze behavior of
an athlete.
In existing studies, the gaze behaviors of athletes were analyzed using video simulation and real
world in-situ conditions [3,7]. Results show that the gaze behavior varies significantly between
video based and real word conditions. To our best of knowledge there is no research that
investigates the influence of VR sport simulations on gaze behavior of athletes.
In this thesis the gaze behavior of soccer players in a VR sports environment will be evaluated and
analyzed using an HMD-integrated eye-tracking system. Therefore, a realistic VR soccer simulation
will be designed and implemented. Further at least eight athletes will be evaluated regarding their
gaze behavior while experiencing the VE. Finally, the results of the study will be compared to
results of previous studies.



  1. Mann, Derek T.Y.; Williams, A. Mark; Ward, Paul; Janelle, Christopher M. (2007): PerceptualCognitive Expertise in Sport: A Meta-Analysis. In: Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 29 (4),
    S. 457–478.
  2. Roca, A., Ford, P. R., McRobert, A. P., & Williams, A. M. (2011). Identifying the processes
    underpinning anticipation and decision-making in a dynamic time-constrained task. Cognitive
    processing, 12(3), 301-310.
  3. Bideau, Benoit; Kulpa, Richard; Vignais, Nicolas; Brault, Sébastien; Multon, Franck; Craig,
    Cathy (2010): Using virtual reality to analyze sports performance. In: IEEE computer graphics and
    applications 30 (2), S. 14–21.
  4. Dicks, Matt; Button, Chris; Davids, Keith (2010): Examination of gaze behaviors under in situ
    and video simulation task constraints reveals differences in information pickup for perception
    and action. In: Attention, perception & psychophysics 72 (3), S. 706–720.
  5. Neumann, David L.; Moffitt, Robyn L.; Thomas, Patrick R.; Loveday, Kylie; Watling, David P.;
    Lombard, Chantal L. et al. (2018): A systematic review of the application of interactive virtual
    reality to sport. In: Virtual Reality 22 (3), S. 183–198.
  6. Mann, Derek T.Y.; Williams, A. Mark; Ward, Paul; Janelle, Christopher M. (2007): PerceptualCognitive Expertise in Sport: A Meta-Analysis. In: Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology 29 (4),
    S. 457–478.
  7. Kredel, R., Vater, C., Klostermann, A., & Hossner, E. J. (2017). Eye-tracking technology and the
    dynamics of natural gaze behavior in sports: A systematic review of 40 years of research.
    Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1845.