Perceptual-cognitive expertise in sport: The past, present, and future
University of Utah
Over the last few decades there has been considerable interest in identifying the processes and mechanisms underpinning anticipation and decision-making in sport. The growth in scientific enquiry has been driven in part by the realisation that the ability to anticipate and to make accurate decisions in a timely manner are fundamental to high-level performance in many ball sports such as soccer, basketball, tennis and American football, as well as in other domains of human activity. Scientists are therefore driven to enhance understanding of these phenomena, whereas practitioners are equally interested in developing interventions to facilitate the more rapid acquisition of the perceptual-cognitive skills that underpin these judgements. In this presentation, a historical overview of some of the key research findings emanating from this body of work is provided. Moreover, a synthesis of contemporary work is presented in order to illustrate contemporary trends in research ideas. Finally, an attempt is made to highlight some of the key questions that remain to be answered both in regards to our knowledge of the underlying processes and mechanisms and our understanding of how interventions may be developed to help develop core perceptual-cognitive skills in younger athletes. The overall intention is to take stock, reflect on what we still need to find out, and highlight avenues and ideas for future research in an effort to provide direction for the field. This overview provides a backdrop to the empirical projects presented in the seminar session as well as offering a framework for researchers to follow over coming decades.
Perceptual-skill training for decision making in beach-volleyball defence: Scrutinising the colour-cue method
University of Bern
The colour-cueing method was introduced to enhance decision-making skills in video-based training programs. However, the method’s functionality is under debate (Abernethy et al., 2012; Klostermann et al., 2015, 2017). Thus, the present series of studies investigated whether earlier null findings resulted from non-matching gaze-path protocols (Exp. 1) and response modes (Exp. 2) over the intervention phase. Positive training effects were particularly expected for congruent training-testing conditions. Novices were trained with expert gaze paths by implementing coloured patches in beach-volleyball-training videos. In Exp. 1, participants (N = 14 in each of the three groups) learned with gaze paths that highlighted experts’ gaze behaviour recorded either under verbal-response or action-response conditions or without gaze paths. In Exp. 2, in addition to gaze-path vs. no-gaze-path learning, participants (N = 13 in each of the four groups) were trained either under verbal- or action-response conditions. Decision-making performance was tested in pre-, post- and retention tests with verbal (put down in writing) and action (recorded by a VICON-motion-capture system, 200 Hz) responses. Gaze behaviour was recorded with an integrated mobile eye-tracking system (EyeSeeCam, 220 Hz). As dependent variables, response accuracy and deviation of participants’ gaze to the verbal- and action-gaze paths were calculated and analysed with mixed-factorial ANOVAs and planned contrasts. In both experiments, gaze deviation showed significant main effects for response mode (all ps < .01, all ηp2 < .28) with participants’ gaze being closer to the gaze path of the matching test condition irrespective of time of test and intervention type (all ps > .09, all ηp2 < .06). Furthermore, participants improved response accuracy over time in the verbal response mode in both experiments (all ps < .01, ηp2 > .25), in Exp. 2 in the action response mode only (p < .01, ηp2 = .20), irrespective of intervention type (all ps > .77, all ηp2 < .03). The results elucidate that, even under perfectly matched intervention and test conditions, previously reported positive effects of colour cueing cannot be replicated. Thus, to summarize the current state of research more rigorously, additionally, a meta-analysis on the effects of the colour-cueing method was conducted. In sum, similar effect sizes and largely overlapping confidence intervals were found when contrasting the colour-cue and the control groups. Consequently, displaying experts’ gaze behaviour with coloured patches in video-based training programs does not seem to yield any benefit in the acquisition of decision-making skills.
How high-level athletes use peripheral vision in martial arts
Universität Bern, Schweiz
Given the high spatio-temporal demands in martial arts, anchoring gaze on so called “pivot points” may help to distribute attention to the periphery and to make use of the motion sensitivity of peripheral vision (Williams & Elliott, 1999). Therefore, it can be expected that gaze is anchored close to relevant attacking locations in martial arts. As these locations differ in Qwan Ki Do (QKD, attacks with arms and legs) and Tae Kwon Do (TKD, attacks mostly with legs), it was predicted that gaze is anchored higher at the opponent’s body in QKD than in TKD when attacks have to be defended in-situ. 10 QKD and 10 TKD experts (all male, 28 ± 5.8 years), all members of a national team, had to react in situ on 24 martial art specific attacks (2 sessions with 12 trials each) with 3 complexity levels (1, 2 or 3 techniques in a row) performed by another QKD or TKD expert. Eye movements were recorded with an EyeSeeCam (ESC). For the gaze analysis, a saccade detection algorithm was used to identify the anchoring height on the opponent’s main body axis after each saccade in 4 phases of the attack (Start, T1, T2, T3). The analysis of gaze anchoring height presented a significant main effect for the phase of the attack (p < .01, ηp² = .55), and an interaction between phase and martial art (p < .01, ηp² = .31). Post-hoc tests revealed that QKD athletes anchor gaze higher than TKD athletes immediately before the attack and during the first defensive movement (p < .05; d = 1.03). The results show that martial arts experts initially anchor their gaze higher, if attacks are expected from arms and legs (QKD) compared with attacks from legs only (TKD). One reason for this initially higher anchoring could be that attacks with arms can be executed faster than attacks with legs and that arms are often used to initiate an attack sequence which affords gaze to be close to these (higher) locations in QKD. Further, since the gaze vector moves down over longer attacking sequences, the visual pivot point might be dynamically adjusted. Thus, an anchoring strategy seems to facilitate the distribution of attention and to make optimal use of the motion sensitivity of peripheral vision. Future studies should aim at the identification of cost functions underlying the determination of an optimal pivot point.
If embodied perception is right, then what do we know about expert perception and decision-making in sports? – The answer: Relatively little!
In many books, textbook chapters and review articles on experts’ perceptual and decision-making skills in sports, it is commonly agreed that, by now, we have gained a solid understanding of experts’ advance cue utilization, pattern recognition, visual search and decision-making skills (for a more critical review on this matter, see Williams & Ward, 2007). I dispute this evaluation of the state of the art based on theoretical reasoning and corresponding methodological shortcomings in empirical work. The aim of this talk is to stimulate a paradigmatic change in this field of research. Embodied perception approaches – including radical, non-Cartesian views (e.g., Gibson, 1979; Proffitt, 2006) and less radical, representational views (e.g., Prinz, 1997) – share the notion, despite fundamentally different ideas on how and why, that action capabilities modulate perception. Action capabilities include physical constraints and motor capacities acquired through training and experience. Perception includes the perception of objects, but also the perception of opportunities for action and the perception of others’ action intentions. If the core assumption is true, then we can only understand perception if we consider its primary function: to guide our actions (including action choices) in the environment (Cañal-Bruland, van der Kamp, & Gray, 2017). Consider the following example (taken from Cañal-Bruland et al., 2017): An expert baseball batter and a novice clearly differ regarding their motor skills. If the ball were approaching both with the same speed, then the distinct motor skills would impose different temporal demands on them with respect to initiating the batting response. The novice would need to initiate the movement earlier than the expert. Consequently, the two are likely to attune to and rely on different information (early kinematic vs. early ball flight information). Because motor skills fundamentally constrain how actors perceive their environment and the information they attune to and use (Cañal-Bruland et al., 2017), it is imperative to examine expert perception and decision-making in representative performance designs (Brunswik, 1956; Pluijms, Cañal-Bruland, Kats, & Savelsbergh, 2013). That is, only in representative performance designs experts are required to use and are capable of ‘bringing in’ their motor skills. Yet, when reviewing experimental work on expert perception and decision-making over the last four decades, research meeting this requirement is scarce, and hence the conclusion that we have relatively little understanding of expert perception and decision-making in the field seems justified. Therefore, based on both theoretical reasoning and corresponding methodological issues a paradigmatic change is needed.