Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Perception of Kinematic Characteristics of Tennis Strokes for Anticipating Stroke Type and Direction

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Perception of Kinematic Characteristics of Tennis Strokes for Anticipating Stroke Type and Direction

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine the sources of visual information used by highly skilled tennis players in anticipating their opponent's shots. In Experiment 1, motion analysis of the strokes showed that the relative motion between the racquet and forearm was different between the ground strokes and lobs, but there were no reliable kinematic differences when shot direction was varied. In Experiment 2, 12 skilled tennis players observed the opponent hitting strokes in a normal video or in a point-light display with different segments occluded. Players' anticipation accuracy was not degraded by the use of the point-light display. Occluding the racquet and forearm significantly reduced the participant's ability to determine the type of stroke produced.

Key words: anticipatory visual cues, point-light display, visual occlusion, visual perception


Humans can perceptually discriminate motor activities such as walking, running, and stepping by observation, because the observer can visually specify and pick up the essential characteristics of the action. In sports, a player's action depends highly on what the player attends to in the environment. It has been reported that expert players are able to retrieve visual information from an opponent's action and use the information to guide their actions more efficiently and productively (e.g., Abernethy, 1987, 1990a, 1990b). The ability to respond quickly and efficiently to a constantly changing environment is a key factor to successful performance (Singer, Cauraugh, Chen, Steinberg, & Frehlich, 1996; Singer et al., 1994).

Sport activities often have a close relationship between perception and action. Temporally constrained sport tasks require that players extract the most valuable source of visual information and use this information to quickly anticipate the opponent's movement outcome. Expert tennis players, for example, have a shorter reaction time, shorter movement time, and higher accuracy of ball outcome anticipation than novice players (Singer et al., 1996). To investigate the expert's perceptual skill, researchers have examined the anticipatory visual cues expert players use in a variety of activities, including tennis (Jones & Miles, 1978; Singer et al., 1996; Ward, Williams, & Bennett, 2002), ice-hockey (Salmela & Fiorito, 1979), badminton (Abernethy, 1988; Abernethy & Russell, 1987a), squash (Abernethy, 1990a, 1990b; Abernethy, Gill, Parks, & Packer, 2001), and soccer (Williams, Davids, Burwitz, & Williams, 1994). Both eye tracking and visual occlusion techniques have been used to detect differences between experts and novices in their use of anticipatory visual cues (e.g., Abernethy et al., 2001, Singer et al., 1996).

The visual search strategy of skilled performers has been examined using eye trackers that show the location of eye fixation points and their durations. In baseball, for example, expert batters fixed their eyes on the area where the ball was released. Novice batters on the other hand shifted alternately between the pitcher's head and the release area (Shank & Haywood, 1987). The findings from several experiments studying eye fixations in tennis have been equivocal. Goulet, Bard, and Fleury (1989) found that experts fixed their eyes more on the racquet and arm compared to novices, who focused on only the ball, during the execution phase. In contrast, Ward et al. (2002) found that experts spent significantly more time fixating on the head-shoulder and trunk-hip regions, whereas novices spent significantly more time viewing the racquet. Singer et al. (1994) found minimal expert and novice differences when observing either the serve or ground strokes. The results of experiments using visual occlusion techniques have been more consistent. Abernethy and Russell (1987a, 1987b) and Abernethy (1990a) demonstrated that visual information of the opponent's racquet and arm is critical for accurate anticipation in racquet activities. …

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