How do athletes behave in a daily collision avoidance situation?


Athletes tend to possess superior capabilities for action, either by running faster or moving more efficiently, which is a reason why they become recognized as athletes in the first place.


Research involving athletes, specially trained in complex navigation, suggests that athletes can process visuo-spatial information more efficiently than non-athletes [1-5].


Athletes are also skilled at detecting deceptive movements of other players and are less affected by those unpredictable movements compared to non-athletes [6].


This is likely the result of being coached on from where to gather visual information. For example, coaches tend to instruct players not to ‘telegraph the move’, thereby telling their athletes not to pass in a predictable fashion by looking directly at their next target or teammate [7-10].


Instead, athletes are taught to look at the hips or belly button of an opponent to predict the direction they will move in as an indication of where the centre of mass (COM) is actually going. This tactic is often outlined in coaching manuals for one-on-one defense in soccer.


Research Questions

Do athletes’ superior action capabilities translate to a daily context of avoiding another pedestrian who unpredictable changes directions?

Where do athletes look and how do they adapt their movements when avoiding a collision with another pedestrian?




In this study, we asked 17 female varsity soccer players (Université Laval) and 11 non-athlete females to walk in a virtual shopping mall towards a goal (Tim Hortons Storefront) while avoiding a virtual pedestrian who would approach and unpredictably steer towards the left, the right, or continue walking straight.


We compared participants’ avoidance behaviours and gaze behaviours while navigating around the virtual pedestrian.

  • Within the same soccer team, we identified 2 sub-groups of athletes depending on whether they demonstrated a dominant behaviour that was different from the non-athletes, either avoidance-dominant or gaze-dominant.
    • Seven of the athletes (athletes-A) were avoidance-dominant
    • Ten of the athletes (athletes-B) were gaze-dominant
  • Athletes-A chose to deviate significantly closer to the virtual pedestrian, delaying their avoidance until ~2.6m from contact. Whereas athletes-B and the non-athletes deviated ~4.2m from contact.
  • Athletes-B fixated their gaze mostly on the trunk and legs of the virtual pedestrian while non-athletes and Athletes-A fixated mostly on the virtual pedestrian’s head.



Take-Home Message

Overall, soccer players demonstrated different navigation or gaze fixation behaviours compared to non-athletes during a daily navigation context.


It appears that some sport-specific soccer training translates to real-world contexts.


Future Work 

More research is needed to determine why some athletes adopt one behaviour versus the other since no differences were noted in the present study between the two athlete groups in terms of age, height, position, number of years playing, or date of last concussion.


Continued work may help to inform future baseline concussion testing and/or classification of athletes’ on-field performance-level.



  1. Gerin-Lajoie, M., et al., Navigational strategies during fast walking: a comparison between trained athletes and non-athletes. Gait Posture, 2007. 26(4): p. 539-45.
  2. Bijman, M.P., J.J. Fisher, and L.A. Vallis, How does visual manipulation affect obstacle avoidance strategies used by athletes? J Sports Sci, 2016. 34(10): p. 915-22.
  3. Faubert, J., Professional athletes have extraordinary skills for rapidly learning complex and neutral dynamic visual scenes. Sci Rep, 2013. 3: p. 1154.
  4. Khanal, S., Impact of Visual Skills Training on Sports Performance: Current and Future Perspectives. Advances in Ophthalmology & Visual System, 2015. 2(1).
  5. Millard, L., et al., Visio-spatial skills in athletes: comparison of rugby players and non-athletes. Sport Sciences for Health, 2020.
  6. Jackson, R.C., S. Warren, and B. Abernethy, Anticipation skill and susceptibility to deceptive movement. Acta Psychol (Amst), 2006. 123(3): p. 355-71.
  7. Siller, G. Passing: The key to team play. 2010
  8. Gels, J. Tips for better passing. n.d.
  9. Cottrell, D. Pass disguise: Fool them all. Attack, Passing & Handling, Practice plans n.d.
  10. Amarikwa, Q. 7 ways to improve your passing. 2016.

Sheryl M. Bourgaize (1,3), Michael E. Cinelli (1), Félix Fiset (2,3) & Bradford J. McFadyen (2,3)

  1. Department of Kinesiology & Physical Education, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON
  2. Faculté de médecine, Département de réadaptation, Université Laval, Québec, QC
  3. Centre interdisciplinaire de recherche en réadaptation et intégration sociale, Québec, QC