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Jason C. Laffer, Aaron J. Coutts and Job Fransen

Dynamic motor skills such as volleyball blocking rely on efficient perception–action coupling and are influenced by individual, environmental, and task constraints. However, limited research studies have assessed the effect of an individual constraint such as blocking skill on visual attention during an in-situ volleyball blocking task. Therefore, this study used a cross-sectional, observational design to investigate the gaze behavior of 18 male volleyball players (25.6 ± 4.9 years), of two different levels of blocking skill determined a priori according to success during an on-court blocking task. When compared to relatively unsuccessful players (RUS), the gaze of relatively successful players (RS) was observed to fixate more often (RUS: 0.7 ± 0.7 n, RS: 1.3 ± 0.3 n) and dwell for longer (Total; RUS: 12.2 ± 18.4%, RS: 48.0 ± 37.2%, Phase 4; RUS: 6.6 ± 8.8%, RS: 16.9 ± 12.4%) on the opposition spiker, demonstrating that important perceptual information about an opposing team’s attack lies within the behavior of the opposition spiker. More successful blockers were also observed to be taller (RUS: 181.8 ± 6.6 cm, RS: 192.6 ± 3.9 cm), longer in arm-span (RUS: 185.7 ± 5.6 cm, RS: 195.2 ± 5.6 cm), and heavier (RUS: 78.6 ± 11.4 kg, RS: 90.5 ± 8.5 kg). These results can consequently be used to develop a profile of the visual attention and physical attributes of successful blockers for use in developing talented players.

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Mitchell J. Henderson, Job Fransen, Jed J. McGrath, Simon K. Harries, Nick Poulos and Aaron J. Coutts

Purpose: To examine the collective independent influence of a range of individual characteristics on physical and technical match performance during international rugby sevens matches. Methods: Data were collected from 20 international rugby sevens players from 1 team across 1 season. Activity profiles were measured using wearable microtechnology devices, and technical performance measures were collected from match video analysis. Subjective well-being measures were collected using a well-being questionnaire completed on the morning of main training days, and groin-squeeze assessments at 0° and 60° knee flexion were also conducted using a sphygmomanometer. Assessments of aerobic fitness were completed periodically across the season, including time to complete a 2-km run and final velocity during the 30:15 Intermittent Fitness Test (V IFT). A principal-components analysis was conducted to reduce the dimensionality of the physical and technical variables into single-factor values. Linear mixed models were then constructed to examine the collective influence of a range of individual contextual variables on physical and technical performance factors. Results: Increased muscle soreness, stress, and VIFT were associated with trivial to small increases in physical and technical performance values, whereas trivial to small decreases were associated with higher perceived recovery, body weight, and groin squeeze (0° knee flexion). Conclusions: A range of well-being metrics are required to account for a significant portion of the variance in physical and technical performance. These factors may be manipulated by coaches or practitioners to achieve favorable physiological readiness that may lead to improved match performance.

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Job Fransen, Stephen Bush, Stephen Woodcock, Andrew Novak, Dieter Deprez, Adam D.G. Baxter-Jones, Roel Vaeyens and Matthieu Lenoir

Purpose: This study aimed to improve the prediction accuracy of age at peak height velocity (APHV) from anthropometric assessment using nonlinear models and a maturity ratio rather than a maturity offset. Methods: The dataset used to develop the original prediction equations was used to test a new prediction model, utilizing the maturity ratio and a polynomial prediction equation. This model was then applied to a sample of male youth academy soccer players (n = 1330) to validate the new model in youth athletes. Results: A new equation was developed to estimate APHV more accurately than the original model (new model: Akaike information criterion: −6062.1, R 2 = 90.82%; original model: Akaike information criterion = 3048.7, R 2 = 88.88%) within a general population of boys, particularly with relatively high/low APHVs. This study has also highlighted the successful application of the new model to estimate APHV using anthropometric variables in youth athletes, thereby supporting the use of this model in sports talent identification and development. Conclusion: This study argues that this newly developed equation should become standard practice for the estimation of maturity from anthropometric variables in boys from both a general and an athletic population.

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Job Fransen, Dieter Deprez, Johan Pion, Isabel B Tallir, Eva D’Hondt, Roel Vaeyens, Matthieu Lenoir and Renaat M. Philippaerts

The goal of this study was to investigate differences in physical fitness and sports participation over 2 years in children with relatively high, average, and low motor competence. Physical fitness and gross motor coordination of 501 children between 6–10 years were measured at baseline and baseline+2 years. The sample compromised 2 age cohorts: 6.00–7.99 and 8.00–9.99 years. An age and sex-specific motor quotient at baseline testing was used to subdivide these children into low (MQ < P33), average (P33 ≤ MQ < P66) and high (MQ ≥ P66) motor competence groups. Measures of sports participation were obtained through a physical activity questionnaire in 278 of the same children. Repeated Measures MANCOVA and two separate ANOVAs were used to analyze differences in changes in physical fitness and measures of sports participation respectively. Children with high motor competence scored better on physical fitness tests and participated in sports more often. Since physical fitness levels between groups changed similarly over time, low motor competent children might be at risk for being less physically fit throughout their life. Furthermore, since low motor competent children participate less in sports, they have fewer opportunities of developing motor abilities and physical fitness and this may further prevent them from catching up with their peers with an average or high motor competence.

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Adam Beavan, Vincent Chin, Louise M. Ryan, Jan Spielmann, Jan Mayer, Sabrina Skorski, Tim Meyer and Job Fransen

Introduction: Assessments of executive functions (EFs) with varying levels of perceptual information or action fidelity are common talent-diagnostic tools in soccer, yet their validity still has to be established. Therefore, a longitudinal development of EFs in high-level players to understand their relationship with increased exposure to training is required. Methods: A total of 304 high-performing male youth soccer players (10–21 years old) in Germany were assessed across three seasons on various sport-specific and non-sport-specific cognitive functioning assessments. Results: The posterior means (90% highest posterior density) of random slopes indicated that both abilities predominantly developed between 10 and 15 years of age. A plateau was apparent for domain-specific abilities during adolescence, whereas domain-generic abilities improved into young adulthood. Conclusion: The developmental trajectories of soccer players’ EFs follow the general populations’ despite long-term exposure to soccer-specific training and game play. This brings into question the relationship between high-level experience and EFs and renders including EFs in talent identification questionable.

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Andrew R. Novak, Kyle J.M. Bennett, Adam Beavan, Johan Pion, Tania Spiteri, Job Fransen and Matthieu Lenoir

This study aimed to determine if the Körperkoordinationstest für Kinder (KTK) remained a valid assessment of motor competence following the removal of the hopping for height subtest (KTK3). Children (n = 2479) aged 6–11 years completed all KTK subtests (KTK4) and motor quotient sum scores (MQS) were determined for the KTK3 and KTK4. Classifications were established as MQS below percentile 5 (P5), MQS between percentile 5–15 (P15), MQS between percentile 15–50 (P15–50), MQS between percentile 50–85 (P50–85), MQS between percentile 85–95 (P85), and MQS higher than percentile 95 (P95). Pearson’s correlation (r = .97) and cross-tabs (Chi2 = 6822.53, p < .001; Kappa = 0.72) identified substantial agreement overall between the KTK3 and KTK4. However, when classified into separate age and gender categories, poor agreement (< 60%) was found in girls: P15 at 8–11 years and P85 at 6–7 years; and in boys: P5 and P15 at 6 years, P85 at 8 years, and P15 at 10 years. Researchers should consider these findings when selecting which KTK protocol to use.

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Job Fransen, Thomas W.J. Lovell, Kyle J.M. Bennett, Dieter Deprez, Frederik J.A. Deconinck, Matthieu Lenoir and Aaron J. Coutts

The aim of the current study was to examine the influence of restricted visual feedback using stroboscopic eyewear on the dribbling performance of youth soccer players. Three dribble test conditions were used in a within-subjects design to measure the effect of restricted visual feedback on soccer dribbling performance in 189 youth soccer players (age: 10–18 y) classified as fast, average or slow dribblers. The results showed that limiting visual feedback increased dribble test times across all abilities. Furthermore, the largest performance decrement between stroboscopic and full vision conditions was in fast dribblers, showing that fast dribblers were most affected by reduced visual information. This may be due to a greater dependency on visual feedback at increased speeds, which may limit the ability to maintain continuous control of the ball. These findings may have important implications for the development of soccer dribbling ability.