By Ben Franks, Lecturer in Coaching and Physical Education

UCFB Wembley recently launched a Research & Journal Club to encourage students and staff to engage in their academic research and share their ideas. Here, Ben Franks, a lecturer in coaching and physical education discusses the club and his latest research…

You recently presented your thesis research at UCFB Wembley’s Research & Journal Club. Can you tell us a why a forum like this is beneficial for both UCFB students and academics?

The Research & Journal Club is an excellent tool to remove the traditional barriers found on the roles of staff vs. students. The key ethos encouraged is how everyone in the room is there for the same reason, and is equal; whether that be a senior academic or a second year undergraduate student, we’re all there to share ideas and discuss research.

I am a new academic appointment at UCFB, and in this short time the range of talks has been really exciting, and has even opened up opportunities for staff/student collaborations. Collaboration in higher education is an area I have researched before and something I feel is very beneficial for both students and staff. The role of the student in higher education is changing, and I feel that a forum like the Research & Journal Club is an exciting development opportunity to cater for this changing role.

Your latest research – The Quiet Eye, Functional Variability and Advancements in Perceptual Cognitive Expertise. A perceptual approach to expertise in elite football goalkeepers. Can you tell us what it’s about?

My research thesis aimed to understand what makes professional goalkeepers perform so highly. In order to do this, I looked at the behaviour of the eyes through a phenomenon called the ‘quiet eye’. Simply put, the quiet eye is the final fixation of the eye at a specific location for longer than 100ms.

Firstly, I completed a methodology study which compared traditional experiments (very static penalty kicks) against a more dynamic and ‘real’ experimental task. The results from this study showed significant statistical differences in the eye behaviours between the two tasks, showing that current methods of examining expertise may not capture the full complete reality of what goalkeepers face in dynamic performance situations. The second part of the study examined the eye behaviours of professional goalkeepers and full time academy scholars in the same dynamic task from the origin study. In this study, I found that there are key differences between the academy and senior goalkeepers, despite both groups’ relative expert status. Particularly, senior goalkeepers looked at an area called the visual pivot, whereas academy goalkeepers looked at the ball for the majority of the time. Equally, senior goalkeepers had a much longer gaze duration (or, a longer quiet eye duration).

Probably the most interesting trend, that unfortunately we couldn’t show as being statistically significant because of the sample size, was that the senior ‘expert’ goalkeepers did not have specifically consistent and optimum gaze strategies (E.G. length and timing of gaze), but operated within a ‘functional bandwidth’ where it appeared that the goalkeepers’ eye behaviours clustered within a bandwidth which was unique for each goalkeeper.

How important do you think this kind of research can be within sport and what are your plans with it going forward?

Hopefully the research can create a foundation for conversations in talent identification, coaching practice, and the wider implications of visual research. The research has shown the significant difference in eye behaviours by changing the task, showing that goalkeepers form unique information-action couplings with different task conditions.

This finding could inform coaching practice for goalkeepers, suggesting that the use of highly variable and dynamic training environments allow functional relationships to emerge with different information sources, as optic arrays, and actions (movement to save the ball). At present, goalkeeper coaching is very much governed by traditional discourses, so it’s fitting that data is starting to emerge that may challenge the narrative of isolated technical focus in goalkeeping. Going forward the aim is to continue this work into a PhD. Specifically, focusing on the potential of a functional bandwidth as a cursor of expertise, and exploring the role of information (as optic arrays) in training environments and the potential of ecologically rich and valid virtual reality tasks.