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This study examined the relative contribution of visual, perceptual, and cognitive skills to the development of expertise in soccer. Elite and sub-elite players, ranging in age from 9 to 17 years, were assessed using a multidimensional battery of tests. Four aspects of visual function were measured: static and dynamic visual acuity; stereoscopic depth sensitivity; and peripheral awareness. Perceptual and cognitive skills were assessed via the use of situational probabilities, as well as tests of anticipation and memory recall. Stepwise discriminant analyses revealed that the tests of visual function did not consistently discriminate between skill groups at any age. Tests of anticipatory performance and use of situational probabilities were the best in discriminating across skill groups. Memory recall of structured patterns of play was most predictive of age. As early as age 9, elite soccer players demonstrated superior perceptual and cognitive skills when compared to their sub-elite counterparts. Implications for training perceptual and cognitive skill in sport are discussed.
The authors are with the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moores University, 15-21 Webster St., Liverpool, L3 2ET, UK. Ward is now mainly with the Dept. of Psychology and Institute of Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., Orlando, FL 32816.