Knowledge Representation and Problem Solution in Expert and Novice Youth Baseball Players

Article excerpt

Children enter youth sport with little knowledge of sport tactics. Basic knowledge of the rules, terminology, tactics, and goals of the game are acquired during early participation. Because sport knowledge has been shown to be related to other critical cognitive aspects of game performance (French & Thomas, 1987; McPherson & Thomas, 1989; Starkes & Allard, 1993), much more research is needed to describe and explain how knowledge content and structure are developed.

Verbal protocols of participants' thought during problem solving have been used extensively in cognitive and developmental psychology to examine knowledge content, structure, and complex information processing (Anderson, 1982; Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reitman, & Glaser, 1989; Chi, Glaser, & Rees, 1982; Chi, Hutchinson, & Robin, 1989; Voss, 1988). The theoretical framework and underlying assumptions, methods for treatment of data, and terminology used in these paradigms are presented in considerable detail in Ericcson and Simon (1993). More recently, techniques which combine sport problem solving and verbal protocol paradigms have been developed by McPherson (1993a, 1994) These paradigms offer the opportunity to more thoroughly describe the development of sport knowledge.

Game situation interviews are one of the verbal protocol techniques used to examine the content and structure of sport knowledge (McPherson, 1993b, 1994; McPherson & Thomas, 1989). Participants receive an initial set of game conditions. For example, in baseball, game conditions might include the location of runners on base, outs, score, inning, and location where the ball is hit in play. The subject is then asked to generate or recall the most appropriate sequence of game or player actions to solve these game situations. The verbalized thoughts of participants as they recall the solution are used as data.

Successful problem solution would require the subject to select the relevant information in the game conditions, direct attention to activate relevant concepts, and integrate the critical input with associated appropriate action sequences from long-term memory. In less complex game situations, integration might involve matching the relevant game conditions with appropriate actions that are easily and quickly retrievable. Integration in more complex game situations might involve activation of critical input and nodes within long-term memory to form an initial representation of the problem or more abstract classification of problem type (i.e., double play, nonforce situation, preventing a critical run). The problem representation would subsequently guide further search and retrieval operations as relevant information is accessed into and out of working memory, until the sequence of appropriate actions could be verbalized completely.

Several errors can occur during this task. First, individuals can fail to recognize and direct attention to the most relevant game conditions. Second, associations (links) between the relevant game conditions and the most appropriate actions may be weak. Weak associations would lead to poor search and retrieval operations. In this case, the more appropriate game actions may be present in long-term memory, but they are difficult to retrieve. Third, the most appropriate game actions may not be present in long-term memory. Less effective game actions that are present in long-term memory would be accessed instead. Thus, an important variable to consider in responses is what game actions are verbalized, whether the actions are relevant or irrelevant to the game problem. Actions (relevant and irrelevant) that are accessed most frequently in game situations indicate that these actions are in long-term memory, have high activation weights, and are easily retrieved.

These types of errors serve as indicators of cognitive processes involved in problem solution. Although the cognitive processes (i.e., search and retrieval) can not be observed directly, processes may be inferred from the content of verbalized thoughts and the order in which they are verbalized (Ericcson & Simon, 1993). …