Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Knowledge Is More Than We Can Talk About: Implicit Learning in Motor Skill Acquisition

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Knowledge Is More Than We Can Talk About: Implicit Learning in Motor Skill Acquisition

Article excerpt

When a baseball player hits a home run, we observe some interesting features about the person's movements and interaction with the environment. At the movement level, we observe a highly coordinated movement pattern as the swing is initiated and carried out. In addition, we observe a perfect interaction between the person and his or her environment, because hitting a home run requires a person to time body and limb movements precisely with the space and time characteristics of a rapidly moving ball. This coupling between ball-movement perception and body or limb action is a critical characteristic that influences the successful performance of open motor skills - skills requiring the performer to time the initiation and execution of their own movements to act on a moving object. Although perception-action coupling as it relates to open motor skills has had a substantial amount of research interest from a developmental perspective and an increasing interest in addressing its motor control basis, researchers have generally overlooked questions related to the acquisition of this coupling. Thus, the purpose of this article is to describe some research that has investigated this motor skill learning issue and provide some implications of that research for motor skill instruction.

Context Characteristics Influencing Performance

Because motor skills are performed in a physical context, certain features of that context influence the movements required to perform a skill. Gentile (1972, 1987) provided some insight into this influence when she categorized physical context features as either "regulatory" or "nonregulatory." Regulatory features in the environmental context determine (i.e., "regulate")what and how body and limb movements must be performed to successfully achieve the goal of the action in the performance situation. For example, to stay with the baseball batting example described earlier, to achieve the action goal of hitting the ball, the batter's body and limb movements must spatially and temporally coincide with the spatial and temporal characteristics of the ball's movement. Thus, ball speed and ball movement are two regulatory features of the environmental context for hitting a moving ball. Nonregulatory features, on the other hand, are characteristics of the environmental context that do not, or should not, influence the movements selected to perform a skill. These features would include such characteristics as ball color, the pitcher's height, etc. With respect to motor skill learning, Gentile (1972, 1987) proposed that knowledge about the environmental regulatory features of the skill is an important component of skilled performance, and the acquisition of this knowledge is an essential part of the initial stage of skill learning.

Experts' Knowledge of Regulatory Information

An interesting type of evidence supporting the hypothesis that people acquire knowledge about environmental regulatory features when learning a motor skill comes from research comparing skilled performers and novices in terms of what they spontaneously "look at" while performing a motor skill. The hypothesis here is that if knowledge about environmental regulatory features is a part of what skilled performers have learned, they should spontaneously "look at" information-rich performance context locations more than novices.

A good example of this type of comparison was reported in an experiment by Goulet, Bard, and Fleury (1989) in which they compared novice and expert tennis players in terms of where they looked and for how long while receiving a serve. Through the use of eye movement detection equipment, the authors found that experts spent more time than novices looking at those parts of the server, racquet, and ball that contained critical regulatory information needed to prepare a successful return of serve. The areas looked at varied somewhat according to the phase of the serve. During the initial "ritual phase" of the server's movements, experts directed most of their visual focus to the server's head, shoulder, and trunk. …

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