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Emmanuel Ducrocq, Mark Wilson, Tim J. Smith, and Nazanin Derakshan

Optimum levels of attentional control are essential to prevent athletes from experiencing performance breakdowns under pressure. The current study explored whether training attentional control using the adaptive dual n-back paradigm, designed to directly target processing efficiency of the main executive functions of working memory (WM), would result in transferrable effects on sports performance outcomes. A total of 30 tennis players were allocated to an adaptive WM training or active control group and underwent 10 days of training. Measures of WM capacity as well as performance and objective gaze indices of attentional control in a tennis volley task were assessed in low- and high-pressure posttraining conditions. Results revealed significant benefits of training on WM capacity, quiet eye offset, and tennis performance in the high-pressure condition. Our results confirm and extend previous findings supporting the transfer of cognitive training benefits to objective measures of sports performance under pressure.

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Mark B. Andersen, Penny McCullagh, and Gabriel J. Wilson

Many of the measurements used in sport psychology research are arbitrary metrics, and researchers often cannot make the jump from scores on paper-and-pencil tests to what those scores actually mean in terms of real-world behaviors. Effect sizes for behavioral data are often interpretable, but the meaning of a small, medium, or large effect for an arbitrary metric is elusive. We reviewed all the issues in the 2005 volumes of the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, The Sport Psychologist, and the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology to determine whether the arbitrary metrics used in sport psychology research were interpreted, or calibrated, against real-world variables. Of the 54 studies that used quantitative methods, 25 reported only paper-and-pencil arbitrary metrics with no connections to behavior or other real-world variables. Also, 44 of the 54 studies reported effect sizes, but only 7 studies, using both arbitrary and behavioral metrics, had calculated effect indicators and interpreted them in terms of real-world meaning.

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Mark R. Wilson, Samuel J. Vine, and Greg Wood

The aim of this study was to test the predictions of attentional control theory using the quiet eye period as an objective measure of attentional control. Ten basketball players took free throws in two counterbalanced experimental conditions designed to manipulate the anxiety they experienced. Point of gaze was measured using an ASL Mobile Eye tracker and fixations including the quiet eye were determined using frame-by-frame analysis. The manipulation of anxiety resulted in significant reductions in the duration of the quiet eye period and free throw success rate, thus supporting the predictions of attentional control theory. Anxiety impaired goal-directed attentional control (quiet eye period) at the expense of stimulus-driven control (more fixations of shorter duration to various targets). The findings suggest that attentional control theory may be a useful theoretical framework for examining the relationship between anxiety and performance in visuomotor sport skills.

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Mark R. Wilson, Greg Wood, and Samuel J. Vine

The current study sought to test the predictions of attentional control theory (ACT) in a sporting environment. Fourteen experienced footballers took penalty kicks under low- and high-threat counterbalanced conditions while wearing a gaze registration system. Fixations to target locations (goalkeeper and goal area) were determined using frame-by-frame analysis. When anxious, footballers made faster first fixations and fixated for significantly longer toward the goalkeeper. This disruption in gaze behavior brought about significant reductions in shooting accuracy, with shots becoming significantly centralized and within the goalkeeper’s reach. These findings support the predictions of ACT, as anxious participants were more likely to focus on the “threatening” goalkeeper, owing to an increased influence of the stimulus-driven attentional control system.

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Greg Wood, Samuel J. Vine, Johnny Parr, and Mark R. Wilson

In three experiments, we explored the use of deceptive gaze in soccer penalty takers using eye-tracking equipment. In Experiment 1, players competed against a goalkeeper while taking unconstrained shots. Results indicated that when players used deception (looking to the opposite side to which they shot), they extended the duration of their final aiming (quiet eye) fixation and maintained shooting accuracy. In Experiment 2, with no goalkeeper present, players still used extended quiet-eye durations when using a deceptive strategy, but this time, their accuracy suffered. In Experiment 3, we manipulated the goalkeeper’s location while controlling for the use of peripheral vision and memory of goal size. Results indicated that increased quiet-eye durations were required when using deceptive aiming, and that accuracy was influenced by the position of the goalkeeper. We conclude that during deceptive aiming, soccer players maintain accuracy by covertly processing information related to the goalkeeper’s location.

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Guoxiao Sun, Liwei Zhang, Samuel J. Vine, and Mark R. Wilson

Longer quiet eye (QE) periods are associated with better performance across a range of targeting and interceptive tasks. However, the direction of this relationship is still unclear. The two studies presented aimed to narrow this knowledge gap by experimentally manipulating QE duration—by delaying its onset or by truncating its offset—in an aiming interceptive task. In Experiment 1, the early trajectory was occluded, causing significantly shorter QE durations and worse subsequent performance. In Experiment 2, both early and/or late trajectory were occluded. Performance was degraded by the occlusion of either early or late information, and the worst performance occurred when both the early and late trajectory were occluded. Taken together, the results suggest that QE is not a by-product of performance but instead plays a causal role in supporting the interception of a moving target through a combination of preprogramming and online control processes.

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Emmanuel Ducrocq, Mark Wilson, Sam Vine, and Nazanin Derakshan

Attentional control is a necessary function for the regulation of goal-directed behavior. In three experiments we investigated whether training inhibitory control using a visual search task could improve task-specific measures of attentional control and performance. In Experiment 1 results revealed that training elicited a near-transfer effect, improving performance on a cognitive (antisaccade) task assessing inhibitory control. In Experiment 2 an initial far-transfer effect of training was observed on an index of attentional control validated for tennis. The principal aim of Experiment 3 was to expand on these findings by assessing objective gaze measures of inhibitory control during the performance of a tennis task. Training improved inhibitory control and performance when pressure was elevated, confirming the mechanisms by which cognitive anxiety impacts performance. These results suggest that attentional control training can improve inhibition and reduce taskspecific distractibility with promise of transfer to more efficient sporting performance in competitive contexts.

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Mark Wilson, Mark Chattington, Dilwyn E. Marple-Horvat, and Nick C. Smith

This study examined attentional processes underlying skilled motor performance in threatening situations. Twenty-four trained participants performed a simulated rally driving task under conditions designed either to direct the focus of attention toward the explicit monitoring of driving or a distracting secondary task. Performance (lap time) was compared with a “driving only” control condition. Each condition was completed under nonevaluative and evaluative instructional sets designed to manipulate anxiety. Mental effort was indexed by self-report and dual-task performance measures. The results showed little change in performance in the high-threat explicit monitoring task condition, compared with either the low-threat or the high-threat distraction conditions. Mental effort increased, however, in all high- as opposed to low-threat conditions. Performance effectiveness was therefore maintained under threat although this was at the expense of reduced processing efficiency. The results provide stronger support for the predictions of processing efficiency theory than self-focus theories of choking.

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Mark W. Bruner, Jeremie M. Carreau, Kathleen S. Wilson, and Michael Penney

The purpose of this study was to investigate youth athletes’ perceptions of group norms for competition, practice, and social setting contexts in relation to personal and social factors. A secondary purpose of this study was to examine the interactions of the personal and situation factors on perceptions of group norms. Participants included 424 athletes from 35 high school sport teams who completed a survey assessing team norms in competition, practice, and social settings. Multilevel analysis results revealed differences in group norms by gender as well as gender by team tenure and gender by sport type interactions. Female teams held higher perceptions of norms for competition, practice, and social settings than male teams. Interactions between gender and team tenure and gender and sport type revealed significant differences in practice norms. No differences were found in norms by group size. The findings suggest that examining the characteristics of the team members (i.e., gender, team tenure) and team (i.e., type of sport) may enhance our understanding of group norms in a youth sport setting.

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Lee J. Moore, Mark R. Wilson, Samuel J. Vine, Adam H. Coussens, and Paul Freeman

The present research examined the immediate impact of challenge and threat states on golf performance in both real competition and a laboratory-based task. In Study 1, 199 experienced golfers reported their evaluations of competition demands and personal coping resources before a golf competition. Evaluating the competition as a challenge (i.e., sufficient resources to cope with demands) was associated with superior performance. In Study 2, 60 experienced golfers randomly received challenge or threat manipulation instructions and then performed a competitive golf-putting task. Challenge and threat states were successfully manipulated and the challenge group outperformed the threat group. Furthermore, the challenge group reported less anxiety, more facilitative interpretations of anxiety, less conscious processing, and displayed longer quiet eye durations. However, these variables failed to mediate the group–performance relationship. These studies demonstrate the importance of considering preperformance psychophysiological states when examining the influence of competitive pressure on motor performance.