Watch Where the New York Red Bulls Players Are Looking

The Red Bulls are using Tobii eye-tracking technology to gather data about what the team’s players are looking at through various situations on the pitch. A video by Fractal Media for the company’s Function series examines where players look during penalties, set pieces, one-on-ones, and live gameplay.

In one scene, on the New York Red Bulls practice field, Andrew Tinari was closely watching the ball between the feet of his teammate Scotty Taylor. But in an instant Taylor flipped the ball over Tinari’s head using the back of his heel, before controlling it on the other side. Tinari had been caught by one of soccer’s flashiest moves: the Rainbow. Worse, Fractal Media had the whole play on camera.

The majority of Fractal’s videos use Tobii eye-tracking technology and the company has examined how people’s eyes work in art, music, dating, and now soccer.

“We’ve been in a variety of situations and it’s fun being able to move around a bit in what we explore,” said Patrick Adelman, the founder of Fractal Media. “We looked at a bunch of different sports to study with this video. We chose soccer because it’s a good mix of pace and physicality with a lot of visual inputs.”

John Wolyniec, the coach of the New York Red Bulls II, the academy team that Taylor and Tinari play on, said he was surprised not necessarily by where the players looked, but how often they looked there.

“If you asked a player where he looked on a penalty, they might say the goalie, then the ball,” Wolyniec explained. “In reality, they look back and forth a lot before the shot. Sometimes we don’t fully understand what we see and just work on previous experiences. If you understand what you are taking in, in a way it can [quantify your instincts.]”

Wolyniec has a math degree, with a minor in physics, from Fordham University. He knows that data can easily be skewed. In this case, because players are putting on eye-tracking glasses, they can be overly aware of where they are looking. When the goal is to find data that can help on the pitch, any source of bias must be identified and mitigated.

“Wearing glasses is almost certainly going to change something,” Wolyniec says. “Soccer is tricky to put in a box and do science. There’s too many factors, too many variables. It’s hard to draw really specific conclusions.”

Even without those conclusions, though, eye tracking can still have an impact on players, especially younger ones.

“One of the things we believe is important is eye-training,” Wolyniec said. “With younger players we can work on focused vs. frenetic eye movement. The numbers can show that it is more efficient to look once or three times in a given moment. That would be an efficient way to help players improve.”