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Joseph Baker, Janice Deakin, Sean Horton and G. William Pearce

Demographic studies indicate a remarkable aging trend in North America. An accurate profile of the decline in physical and cognitive capabilities over time is essential to our understanding of the aging process. This study examined the maintenance of skilled performance across the careers of 96 professional golfers. Data were collected on scoring average, driving distance, driving accuracy, greens in regulation, putts per round, and number of competitive rounds played using online data archives. Analyses indicate that performance in this activity can be maintained to a greater extent than in activities relying on biologically constrained abilities. Although the generalizability of these results to “normal” aging populations is not known, they suggest that acquired skills can be maintained to a large extent in the face of advancing age.

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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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Jon Law, Rich Masters, Steven R. Bray, Frank Eves and Isabella Bardswell

Butler and Baumeister (1998) suggested that performance decrement of a difficult skill-based task occurring only in the presence of a supportive audience could be explained by “a cautious performance style” (p. 1226). A potential alternative explanation stems from Masters’ (1992) contention that skill failure under pressure occurs when performers attempt to control motor performance using explicit knowledge. It was proposed that a skill acquired with minimal metaknowledge (i.e., a limited explicit knowledge base) would remain robust regardless of audience type. To test this hypothesis, a table tennis shot was learned with either a greater or a lesser bank of explicit task knowledge. Performance was subsequently assessed in the presence of observation-only audiences, supportive audiences, and adversarial audiences. Consistent with hypotheses, supportive audiences induced performance decrement in the explicit-learning group only. It was argued that supportive audiences engender higher levels of internally focused attention than do adversarial or observation-only audiences, increasing the chance of disruption to skill execution when performance characteristics involve a large amount of explicit processing.

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Niilo Koettinen and Heikki Lyytinen

Preshot brain slow potential (SP) shifts from frontal, central, centro-lateral, and occipital areas were recorded for 12 national-caliber sharpshooters during rifle-shooting performance. The aim of the study was to examine the intra-and intersubject variation in these SP profiles and to compare the superior performance to the poor performance. The results revealed that each shooter responded with one main SP profile in both performance categories. The other profiles represented outliers rather than substantial variation. The main profiles differed from subject to subject, presumably indicating several shooting styles. Finally, the main profiles related to high and low score shots could be differentiated, but this differentiation varied from subject to subject. The results were interpreted as showing that a shooter tends systematically to carry through a learned performance pattern, which is reflected in the main SP profile of the superior shots. If the shooter fails to follow this pattern, the shot is preceded by different SP changes.

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Peter Gröpel, Christopher Mesagno and Jürgen Beckmann

Evidence shows that using a preshot routine (PSR) improves performance in self-paced, closed-skill tasks. A PSR is a set of cognitive and behavioral elements an athlete systematically engages in prior to performance execution. The present study describes the implementation and evaluation of a PSR intervention with elite pistol shooters in the 10-m air-pistol discipline. Individualized PSRs were developed with the shooters in individual psychological sessions, and the PSRs were then practiced in subsequent training sessions. Intervention effectiveness was evaluated by analyzing the shooters’ competition performance. Overall, the shooters improved on average by 2.5 points from before to after the intervention. This improvement was unlikely due to seasonal effect, as the league average (scores of league shooters not included in the intervention sample) remained stable during the study time. These results indicate that using a PSR before a shooting series has benefits for subsequent shooting performance.

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Shih-Chun Kao, Chung-Ju Huang and Tsung-Min Hung

The purpose of this study was to determine whether frontal midline theta activity (Fmθ), an indicator of top-down sustained attention, can be used to distinguish an individual’s best and worst golf putting performances during the pre-putt period. Eighteen golfers were recruited and asked to perform 100 putts in a self-paced simulated putting task. We then compared the Fmθ power of each individual’s 15 best and worst putts. The results indicated that theta power in the frontal brain region significantly increased in both best and worst putts, compared with other midline regions. Moreover, the Fmθ power significantly decreased for the best putts compared with the worst putts. These findings suggest that Fmθ is a manifestation of sustained attention during a skilled performance and that optimal attentional engagement, as characterized by a lower Fmθ power, is beneficial for successful skilled performance rather than a higher Fmθ power reflecting excessive attentional control.

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William E. Moore and John R. Stevenson

The concept of trust in performing complex automatic motor skills involves letting go of conscious controlling tendencies often learned during skill acquisition. Theories of motor control provide a framework for automatic selection and execution of movement sequences during skilled performance. Trust is viewed as a psychological skill in which the athlete releases conscious control over movements, thus allowing the automatic execution of the schema that have been developed through training. This paper defines and characterizes trust and its role in the performance of automatic sport skills, with the goal of suggesting a path for applied research concerning trust and sport skills performance.

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Patrick R. Thomas and Ray Over

Psychological and psychomotor skills associated with performance in golf were established through ratings provided by 165 men with golf handicaps ranging from 5 to 27. Several components of skilled performance in golf were identified through factor analysis of these ratings, followed by comparisons between lower handicap and higher handicap players. Skilled golfers (those with lower handicaps) reported greater mental preparation, a higher level of concentration when playing golf, fewer negative emotions and cognitions, greater psychomotor automaticity, and more commitment to golf. Three self-report assessment scales (measures of psychological skills and tactics, psychomotor skills, and golf involvement) were developed from the data. Contexts in which these scales can be used are discussed.

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Danielle Adams, Kelly J. Ashford and Robin C. Jackson

The effect of priming on the speed and accuracy of skilled performance and on a probe-reaction time task designed to measure residual attentional capacity, was assessed. Twenty-four skilled soccer players completed a dribbling task under three prime conditions (fluency, skill-focus, and neutral) and a control condition. Results revealed changes in trial completion time and secondary task performance in line with successfully priming autonomous and skill-focused attention. Retention test data for task completion time and probe-reaction time indicated a linear decrease in the priming effect such that the effect was nonsignificant after 30 min. Results provide further support for the efficacy of priming and provide the first evidence of concurrent changes in attentional demands, consistent with promoting or disrupting automatic skill execution.

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Robin C. Jackson, Kelly J. Ashford and Glen Norsworthy

Attentional processes governing skilled motor behavior were examined in two studies. In Experiment 1, field hockey players performed a dribbling task under single-task, dual-task, and skill-focused conditions under both low and high pressure situations. In Experiment 2, skilled soccer players performed a dribbling task under single-task, skill-focused, and process-goal conditions, again under low and high pressure situations. Results replicated recent findings regarding the detrimental effect of skill-focused attention and the facilitative effect of dual-task conditions on skilled performance. In addition, focusing on movement related process goals was found to adversely affect performance. Support for the predictive validity of the Reinvestment Scale was also found, with high reinvesters displaying greater susceptibility to skill failure under pressure. Results were consistent with explicit monitoring theories of choking and are further discussed in light of the conceptual distinction between explicit monitoring and reinvestment of conscious control.