Evaluating erroneous offside calls in soccer

Publication: Contribution to journalJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


The ability to simultaneously attend to multiple objects declines with increases in the visual angle separating distant objects. We explored whether these laboratory-measured limits on visual attentional spread generalize to a real life context: offside calls by soccer assistant referees. We coded all offside calls from a full year of first division German soccer matches. By determining the x-y coordinates of the relevant players and assistant referee on the soccer field we were able to calculate how far assistant referees had to spread their visual attention to perform well. Counterintuitively, assistant referees made fewer errors when they were farther away from the action due to an advantageous (smaller) visual angle on the game action. The pattern held even when we accounted for individual differences in a laboratory-based attentional spread measure of ten of the assistant referees. Our finding that errors are linked to smaller visual angles may explain the complaints of fans in some situations: Those seated directly behind the assistant referee, further from the players, might actually have it easier to make the right call because the relevant players would form a smaller visual angle.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0174358
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Research areas and keywords

  • Journal Article


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