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K. Anders Ericsson

Traditional theories of aging claim that basic processing speed and memory capacities show inevitable decline with increasing age. Recent research, however, has shown that older experts in some domains are able to maintain their superior performance into old age. but even they display the typical age-related decline in performance on psychometric tests of fluid intelligence. The study of expert performance shows that adults retain the capacity to acquire and maintain performance with the appropriate type of training and practice, even speeded actions and many physiological adaptations. In fact, experts’ performance keeps improving for several decades into adulthood and typically reaches its peak between 30 and 50 years of age. The experts can then maintain their attained performance level into old age by regular deliberate practice. Much of the observed decline in older adults’ performance can be attributed to age-related reductions in engagement in domain-related activities—in particular, regular deliberate practice.

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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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Edward K. Coughlan, A. Mark Williams and Paul R. Ford

the development of expert performance for intermediate level performers. Such longitudinal research is difficult to conduct given time and resource constraints. The sample size is also a limitation of the work. In addition, we did not control for the potential impact of demands effects on the data

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Wade Gilbert, Diana Martinez and Sarah McCord

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Sue L. McPherson and Clare MacMahon

Our understanding of the role of tactical knowledge in baseball batting preparation is scarce, thereby limiting training guidelines. We examined the verbal reports of baseball players and nonplayers when told to view different edited video sequences of a half-inning of baseball competition under different task conditions: to prepare to bat (problem solve); recall as much information as possible (intentional recall); or prepare to bat, with an unexpected recall (incidental recall). Separate mixed-model ANOVAs (Expertise X Instruction conditions) on verbal report measures indicated that nonplayers used general strategies for recalling baseball events and lacked the tactical skills to use such information for their upcoming times at bat. In contrast, players used baseball-specific strategies to encode and retrieve pertinent game events from long-term memory (LTM) to develop tactics for their upcoming times at bat and to recall as much information as possible. Recommendations for training tactical skills are presented as some players exhibited defciencies in the LTM structures that mediate batting decisions.

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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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Sean P. Deeny, Charles H. Hillman, Christopher M. Janelle and Bradley D. Hatfield

Electroencephalographic (EEG) coherence was assessed during a 4-s aiming period prior to trigger pull in expert marksmen (n = 10) and skilled shooters (n = 9) over the course of a regulation round of small-bore rifle shooting. Although both groups were highly experienced, the skilled group had lower ability. Given that specialization of cortical function occurs as domain-specific expertise increases, experts were predicted to exhibit less cortico-cortical communication, especially between cognitive and motor areas, compared to the skilled group. Coherence was assessed for three frequency bands (low alpha, 8–10 Hz; high alpha, 10–13 Hz; and low beta, 13–22 Hz) using sites F3, Fz, F4, C3, Cz, C4, T3, T4, P3, Pz, P4, O1, and O2. Compared to the skilled group, experts exhibited lower coherence between left temporal (T3) and mid-line frontal (Fz) regions for low-alpha and low-beta frequencies, lower coherence for high-alpha between all left hemisphere sites and (Fz), and lower coherence between T3 and all midline sites for the low-beta band. The results reveal that, compared to lesser skilled shooters, experts engage in less cortico-cortical communication, particularly between left temporal association and motor control regions, which implies decreased involvement of cognition with motor processes.

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Paul R. Ford, Jeffrey Low, Allistair P. McRobert and A. Mark Williams

We examined the developmental activities that contribute to the development of superior anticipation skill among elite cricket batters. The batters viewed 36 video clips involving deliveries from bowlers that were occluded at ball release and were required to predict delivery type. Accuracy scores were used to create two subgroups: high-performing and low-performing anticipators. Questionnaires were used to record the participation history profiles of the groups. In the early stages of development, hours accumulated in cricket and other sports, as well as milestones achieved, did not differentiate groups. Significant between-group differences in activity profiles were found between 13 and 15 years of age, with high-performing anticipators accumulating more hours in structured cricket activity, and specifically in batting, compared with their low-performing counterparts.

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David Alder, Paul R. Ford, Joe Causer and A. Mark Williams

We examined the effects of high- versus low-anxiety conditions during video-based training of anticipation judgments using international-level badminton players facing serves and the transfer to high-anxiety and field-based conditions. Players were assigned to a high-anxiety training (HA), low-anxiety training (LA) or control group (CON) in a pretraining–posttest design. In the pre- and posttest, players anticipated serves from video and on court under high- and low-anxiety conditions. In the video-based high-anxiety pretest, anticipation response accuracy was lower and final fixations shorter when compared with the low-anxiety pretest. In the low-anxiety posttest, HA and LA demonstrated greater accuracy of judgments and longer final fixations compared with pretest and CON. In the high-anxiety posttest, HA maintained accuracy when compared with the low-anxiety posttest, whereas LA had lower accuracy. In the on-court posttest, the training groups demonstrated greater accuracy of judgments compared with the pretest and CON.