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Paul Ward and A. Mark Williams

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.

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A. Mark Williams and David Elliott

The effects of anxiety and expertise on visual search strategy in karate were examined. Expert and novice karate performers moved in response to taped karate offensive sequences presented under low (LA) and high anxiety (HA). Expert performers exhibited superior anticipation under LA and HA. No differences were observed between groups in number of fixations, mean fixation duration, or total number of fixation locations per trial. Participants displayed scan paths ascending and descending the centerline of the body, with primary fixations on head and chest regions. Participants demonstrated better performance under HA than under LA. Anxiety had a significant effect on search strategy, highlighted by changes in mean fixation duration and an increase in number of fixations and total number of fixation locations per trial. Increased search activity was more pronounced in novices, with fixations moving from central to peripheral body locations. These changes in search strategy with anxiety might be caused by peripheral narrowing or increased susceptibility to peripheral distractors.

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A. Mark Williams and Bradley Fawver

The authors review some of the most innovative and impactful developments in the field of motor behavior over the last 10–15 years, using citation reports from some of the most prominent journals in the field, as well as relying on subjective opinion from leading academic experts to identify notable contributions to knowledge generation in this broad and increasingly dynamic field of research. They delimit the scope of this task by focusing their efforts on three specific theme areas of study, notably, perceptual–cognitive expertise, motor learning, and motor control. In looking back over the last decade or so, they attempt to provide some direction by highlighting avenues for future research. Their hope is that over the next few decades these research theme areas will have even greater influence and translational impact on quality of life in many aspects of society, including sport and various clinical domains.

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Joe Causer and A. Mark Williams

A number of novel manipulations to the design of playing uniforms were used to try to disguise the actions of penalty takers in soccer. Skilled and less-skilled soccer goalkeepers were required to anticipate penalty kick outcome while their opponent wore one of three different uniform designs that were intended to disguise the availability of potentially key information from the hip region. Variations of shapes/patterns were designed to conceal the actual alignment of the hips. Three occlusion points were used in the test film: −160 ms, −80 ms before, and at foot–ball contact. Skilled individuals reported higher accuracy scores than their less-skilled counterparts (p < .05). There were no performance decrements for the less-skilled group across the different uniform conditions (p > .05); however, the skilled group decreased their accuracy on the experimental conditions compared with the control (p < .05). Findings highlight the potential benefits of designing playing uniforms that facilitate disguise in sport.

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A. Mark Williams, Joan Vickers and Sergio Rodrigues

Processing efficiency theory predicts that anxiety reduces the processing capacity of working memory and has detrimental effects on performance. When tasks place little demand on working memory, the negative effects of anxiety can be avoided by increasing effort. Although performance efficiency decreases, there is no change in performance effectiveness. When tasks impose a heavy demand on working memory, however, anxiety leads to decrements in efficiency and effectiveness. These presumptions were tested using a modified table tennis task that placed low (LWM) and high (HWM) demands on working memory. Cognitive anxiety was manipulated through a competitive ranking structure and prize money. Participants’ accuracy in hitting concentric circle targets in predetermined sequences was taken as a measure of performance effectiveness, while probe reaction time (PRT), perceived mental effort (RSME), visual search data, and arm kinematics were recorded as measures of efficiency. Anxiety had a negative effect on performance effectiveness in both LWM and HWM tasks. There was an increase in frequency of gaze and in PRT and RSME values in both tasks under high vs. low anxiety conditions, implying decrements in performance efficiency. However, participants spent more time tracking the ball in the HWM task and employed a shorter tau margin when anxious. Although anxiety impaired performance effectiveness and efficiency, decrements in efficiency were more pronounced in the HWM task than in the LWM task, providing support for processing efficiency theory.

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A. Mark Williams and K. Anders Ericsson

In this themed issue of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, we bring together an eclectic mix of papers focusing on how expert performers learn the skills needed to compete at the highest level in sport. In the preface, we highlight the value of adopting the expert performance approach as a systematic framework for the evaluation and development of expertise and expert performance in sport. We then place each of the empirical papers published in this issue into context and briefly outline their unique contributions to knowledge in this area. Finally, we highlight several potential avenues for future research in the hope of encouraging others to scientifically study how experts acquire the mechanisms mediating superior performance in sport and how coaches can draw on this knowledge to guide their athletes toward the most effective training activities.

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Paul R. Ford and A. Mark Williams

The developmental model of sport participation (DMSP) was proposed by Côté (1999). First, we examined whether the participation profiles of two groups of professional soccer players in Ireland who either had or had not played Gaelic football to an elite level in adolescence provided support for this model. Both groups commenced participation in soccer around 6 years of age and on average participated in two other sports between 6 and 18 years of age, excluding soccer and Gaelic football. A reduction in the number of other sports and an increase in hours devoted to the primary sport were observed between 6 and 18 years of age, as per the predictions of the DMSP. Second, we examined whether players who demonstrated early diversification required fewer soccer-specific hours to achieve expert performance in that sport compared with players who demonstrated less diversification or did not participate in Gaelic football. No significant relationships or differences were reported, which did not provide support for the DMSP, possibly due to the low sample size employed in this study.

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Mark A. Mon-Williams, Eve Pascal and John P. Wann

Developmental coordination disorder (DCD) occurs in a small number of children who present with impaired body/eye coordination. No study of ophthalmic function in DCD exists despite vision’s primary role in perception. Ocular performance was therefore assessed with a battery of tests. Five hundred children aged between 5 and 7 years were involved in the study. Diagnosis of DCD was confirmed for 29 children by the Movement Assessment Battery for Children (ABC); 29 control children were randomly selected. Comprehensive examination with a battery of ophthalmic tests did not reveal any significant difference in visual status between the two groups. Strabismus was found in 5 children from both groups. All 5 children with strabismus from the DCD group showed a similar movement profile with the Motor Competence Checklist. While a causal relationship cannot be discounted, the presence of strabismus appears more likely to be a “hard” neurological sign of central damage common to this group. The evidence seems to indicate that a simple ophthalmic difficulty does not explain problems with movement control.

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Christopher M. Janelle, Robert N. Singer and A. Mark Williams

We examined distraction and attentional narrowing in a dual-task auto-racing simulation. Participants were randomly assigned to six groups: distraction control, distraction anxiety, relevant control, relevant anxiety, central control, and central anxiety. Those in central conditions performed a driving task; the other four groups identified peripheral lights in addition to driving. Irrelevant peripheral lights were included in distraction conditions. Participants in anxiety conditions were exposed to increasing levels of anxiety via a time-to-event paradigm. In 3 sessions of 20 trials, measures of cognitive anxiety, arousal. visual search patterns, and performance were recorded. At higher levels of anxiety, the identification of peripheral lights became slower and less accurate. and significant performance decrements occurred in central and peripheral tasks. Furthermore, visual search patterns were more eccentric in the distraction anxiety group. Results suggest that drivers who are highly anxious experience an altered ability to acquire peripheral information at the perceptual level.

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Paul Ford, Nicola J. Hodges, Raoul Huys and A. Mark Williams

There is evidence that actions are planned by anticipation of their external effects, with the strength of this effect being dependent on the amount of prior practice. In Experiment 1, skilled soccer players performed a kicking task under four conditions: planning in terms of an external action effect (i.e., ball trajectory) or in terms of body movements, either with or without visual error feedback. When feedback was withheld, a ball focus resulted in more accurate outcomes than a body focus. When visual feedback was allowed, there was no difference between these two conditions. In Experiment 2, both skilled and novice soccer players were tested with the addition of a control condition and in the absence of visual feedback. For both groups there was evidence that a ball focus was more beneficial for performance than a body focus, particularly in terms of movement kinematics where correlations across the joints were generally higher for body rather than ball planning. Most skilled participants reported that ball planning felt more normal than body planning. These experiments provide some evidence that actions are planned in terms of their external action effects, supporting the common-coding hypothesis of action planning.