Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Expert Anticipatory Skill in Striking Sports: A Review and a Model

Academic journal article Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport

Expert Anticipatory Skill in Striking Sports: A Review and a Model

Article excerpt

Expert performers in striking sports can hit objects moving at high speed with incredible precision. Exceptionally well developed anticipation skills are necessary to cope with the severe constraints on interception. In this paper, we provide a review of the empirical evidence regarding expert interception in striking sports and propose a preliminary model of expert anticipation. Central to the review and the model is the notion that the visual information used to guide the sequential phases of the striking action is systematically different between experts and nonexperts. Knowing the factors that contribute to expert anticipation, and how anticipation may guide skilled performance in striking sports, has practical implications for assessment and training across skill levels.

Key words, anticipation, expertise, perception, perception-action


Much research concerning the contribution of anticipation to expert performance has focused on the striking skills used in sports such as tennis, cricket, and baseball. The striking skills used in these sports are performed under several demanding, and largely concurrent, constraints. Concurrent constraints are imposed, for example, by the time pressure for responding and by the need for the contact to be so spatially precise as to send the ball in a desired direction and at a desired speed. Importantly, these constraints can be systematically and independently manipulated by researchers attempting to understand the anticipatory mechanisms underpinning skilled performance (Davids, Renshaw, & Glazier, 2005). As an expert advantage is consistently observed in striking sports, these task settings provide a rich natural context in which to study the links between expertise in striking and the development of anticipation.

To understand the contribution of anticipation to skilled performance, an expertise paradigm (comparing experts and less-skilled athletes on domain-specific tasks) provides a number of advantages over traditional laboratory-based approaches. First, the expertise paradigm permits access to motivated participants with many years, rather than minutes, of task-specific practice. Selection of participants from across a number of different points in the skill continuum can be statistically vital in revealing important relationships. Second, comparisons of experts and less-skilled participants have a record of proven value in parallel fields of inquiry. For example, much of what is known of physiological training effects (e.g., Wilmore, Costill, & Kenney, 2008) comes directly from comparisons of trained (expert) and untrained (novice) people, and studies of experts and nonexperts in the cognitive task domain have also proven valuable in understanding cognitive processing and knowledge acquisition (e.g., Ericsson & Smith, 1991). Third, and most important, knowing what the expert does provides an essential model of the task constraints (Beek, Jacobs, Daffertshofer, & Huys, 2003) and a model of what the perceptual-motor system must do and must optimize to function successfully. Knowing this, and then searching for discrepancies within the approach of the less- skilled athlete, provides a useful means of discovering what has to be learned and what it means to be expert at a task.

In this paper, we discuss the contribution of anticipation to expert performance in striking skills prevalent in sports such as tennis, baseball, table tennis, badminton, squash, and cricket. We focus on the visual-perceptual information supporting skilled anticipation, as such information is dominant in the preparation and execution of striking skills (Gray, 2009a). Our ultimate purpose is to present a preliminary model of expert anticipation in striking sports based on existing empirical studies of experts and nonexperts. In this paper we (a) describe the task constraints in striking sport skills and illustrate why anticipation is essential for success in these sports; (b) provide a brief review of the evidence on the acquisition, from different phases of the striking action, of the visual information that underpins successful anticipation and interception; (c) examine the evidence regarding the interaction between expertise and the coupling of perception and action variables in striking; (d) outline a framework for a model of expert visual anticipation and its role in striking sport skills; and (e) briefly examine how this model might be used to guide testing and training of player skills across the skill continuum. …

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