training karate athletes

How eye tracking enhances karate referee training

Interview with Imola Szebényi, karate regional head coach for youths, on using eye tracking to train referees and athletes.

Training Sports science Human Performance Wearable eye tracking

Imola Szebényi, a Hungarian-German karate professional, noticed differences in how karate referees judged and decided to take a closer look at what they pay attention to when judging kata. Not to point out individual weaknesses, but as an attempt to support training of referees, as well as her karate students, when preparing for tournaments.

She used Tobii Pro eye tracking glasses in the study to record and analyze visual behavior of karate referees as they were judging national and international championships.

Key insights from the eye tracking study

1) Different referees pay attention to different details
The results showed that there is a discrepancy between different referees and how they evaluate the seven most important criteria in kata. Their attention was not always where it should have been and athletes, who in general performed better, were judged more harshly than others. The study also showed that one very experienced referee often anticipated where to look even before the next move happened! This is something other referees could learn from.

2) Eye tracking can improve referee training
When Imola talked to the referees, it was clear that they all knew where to look, but they still ended up looking elsewhere. Using eye tracking as a methodology delivered objective insights that could optimize the training of referees and furthermore improve the standards of judging and fairness of competition. For Imola, one of the main benefits of using Tobii Pro Glasses was the possibility to show the referees post-analysis; what they looked at and how fatigue played an important role on how they judged.

Imola wanted to share the findings from her Master’s Thesis as educational material so referees could become more aware of how they judge and implement a process to become more objective and aligned.

“One of the benefits of using Tobii Pro Glasses was the possibility to show the referees that they are only human, that they also get tired and can lose their focus after watching the same movements for several hours. They need more breaks since the tournaments can go on all day until midnight. I look forward to continuing to work with the referees and support them in becoming better by understanding how they are looking at the kata competitors”, said Imola.

The study details

Twenty-one kata referees from five countries with different license levels, participated in the study and wore Tobii Pro Glasses while judging national and international championships in kata, which is a series of standardized movements that karate students use to practice techniques. The referees looked at both technical performance and athletic display, giving points for stances, transitional movements, correct breathing, and several other factors.

Imola recorded more than 2,000 videos and used the eye tracking software Tobii Pro Lab to analyze the data and evaluate the participants.

In addition, Imola followed up with a questionnaire asking the referees for their feedback about the usability of Tobii Pro Glasses and whether they thought they could learn from the data. The general feedback was that they loved using the wearable eye trackers and thought it is a great tool to use for education and training.

“Tobii Pro Glasses gave me unique insights I otherwise would not have been able to obtain. Being able to see through the eyes of the referees and truly understand how each individual judged and how the environment affected them was extraordinary”, said Imola.

Tobii Pro Glasses 2 used for training Karate referees

Eye tracking in sports research and sports performance

This Karate study is just one example of how eye tracking can be used in sports to train referees and athletes. Eye tracking is a unique method to objectively and accurately record and analyze visual behavior, which is useful in training not only in sports, but in many other fields. It gives insight into the cognitive processes underlying a wide variety of human behavior and can help improve both individual and team performance. Some examples of eye tracking used to improve sport performance can be found under blog posts: Formula behind a F1 driver, Eye tracking in elite sports, and the Nascar case study.

  About the author

Imola Szebényi is a Hungarian-German karate professional, who has practiced karate since early childhood, and today teaches children, teens and anyone who is interested in the popular martial arts practice in her own Dojo - 1. Shotokan Karate Club Frankenthal e.V.

Since there is no specific training or curriculum on where referees should focus their attention when judging kata, Imola’s idea for the study was born. This qualitative study is part of her Master’s Thesis at “Trainerakademie Köln”. She used Tobii Pro Glasses to conduct the study, to see through the eyes of the referees to understand what they really paid attention to.