During last night's World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals, the batter dropped down a surprise bunt and sprinted to first base. The umpire called him safe and slow motion replay showed he had beaten the throw by mere inches. A good runner will make it from home to first in 5 or 6 seconds so seeing the foot hit the bag before the ball reached the glove was an amazing feat of ocularity.

Researchers believe they can make that skill the rule rather than the exception. KU Leuven and UEFA have embarked on a four-year project expand and fine-tune a web-based skills training platform for referees called Perception 4 Perfection. Early results show that the application can improve assistant referees’ on-field perception and decision-making by up to 25%.

Perception 4 Perfection is the product of a partnership that began in 2012 between KU Leuven’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Sciences and UEFA. The web-based training platform utilizes real-life game footage to train referees’ eyes and minds to quickly and consistently recognize offside infractions, foul incidents and goal/no goal situations.

It's training for the kind of ocularity used by officiating in all sports.

“The application can be accessed anywhere, anytime,” says Professor Werner Helsen of KU Leuven’s Movement Control&Neuroplasticity Research Group. “Individual users can decide for themselves when to log in and start their perceptual-cognitive training. In that way it’s a 24/7 ‘distance learning’ tool.” 

Once logged in, users are shown a series of game scenarios and their calls are recorded in real time. “The tool not only immediately shows the correct call for a given incident, it also gives direct feedback and a clear explanation for why the user’s call was correct or incorrect. This helps to continually refine the user’s thinking process, which significantly increases both the uniformity and consistency of their calls,” says Helsen.

In a 2013 study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise, the researchers examined the extent to which this web-based training transfers to the field. They found that the decision-making accuracy of Belgian assistant referees who completed four web-based training sessions of 60 incidents each improved by 23.3% for on-field incidents.

“Our data shows that the application improves assistant referees’ ability to evaluate actual game situations substantially. This is why we are eager to optimize it and to also make it available for referees and additional assistant referees. We want to offer an individualized approach. Not every referee starts at the same level and needs constant feedback. Others flourish on it,” says Helsen.

The technology used to build Perception 4 Perfection could also prove useful beyond the world of sports, say the researchers. “The platform could be used to train people tasked with making decisions in various stressful, time-sensitive scenarios. Think of driving in traffic, responding to emergency situations or performing surgery. People in these situations would all benefit from practice and learning opportunities. We think our method could significantly increase decision-making performance in all kinds of real-life situations.”

Source: KU Leuven