Conditions of Practice in Perceptual Skill Learning

By Memmert, D.; Hagemann, N. et al. | Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, March 2009 | Go to article overview

Conditions of Practice in Perceptual Skill Learning


Memmert, D., Hagemann, N., Althoetmar, R., Geppert, S., Seiler, D., Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport


This study uses three experiments with different kinds of training conditions to investigate the "easy-to-hard" principle, context interference conditions, and feedback effects for learning anticipatory skills in badminton. Experiment 1 (N = 60) showed that a training program that gradually increases the difficulty level has no advantage over the randomized variant. Experiment 2 (N = 60) pointed out that when comparing the blocked (lateral before depth dimension) perceptual training group with the random perceptual training group a significant advantage for the random group was found in the retention test (depth error). Experiment 3 (N = 40) demonstrated that training with reduced feedback (66 %) is no more effective than 100 % feedback training in a group of novice performers.

Key words: context interference, easy-to-hard effect, feedback, perception

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Perceptual skills play a particularly significant role in racquet games and can be learned by means of video-based perceptual training for specific types of sport (for overviews, see Abernethy, Wann, & Parks, 1998; Williams & Grant, 1999; Williams & Ward, 2003; Williams, Ward, & Smeeton, 2004). Many training programs have been designed and tested to improve anticipatory skills in different sports, particularly in novices (Farrow & Abernethy, 2002; Farrow, Chivers, Hardingham, & Sachse, 1998; Williams, Ward, & Chapman, 2003; Williams, Ward, Knowles, & Smeeton, 2002). Results have shown that it is possible, in principle, to acquire anticipatory skills without the need for any direct link between perception and motor functions (e.g., Williams, Ward, Smeeton, & Allen, 2004). This opens up the possibility of using laboratory-based perceptual training for athletes who have been injured, are traveling to competitions, or wish to perform additional self-regulated training at home.

One important issue is how anticipatory skills may be enhanced through different kinds of teaching methods (cf., Farrow & Abernethy, 2002; Hagemann & Memmert, 2006; Smeeton, Williams, Hodges, & North, 2004; Williams et al., 2003; Williams et al., 2002). Which learning mechanism shows the greatest potential for improving the learning of anticipatory skills? Studies have evaluated explicit, implicit, and guided discovery learning. Jackson and Farrow (2005) gave an overview of the different approaches for training anticipatory skills and discuss the potential advantages of implicit learning methods.

As far as we know, no investigations have been made as to whether known conditions of practice from the motor area, such as a certain chronological string of partial skills (context interference effect, Magill & Hall, 1990), frequency of feedback (feedback condition, Wulf & Shea, 2004), or difficulty manipulation (easy-to-hard procedure, Goldstone, 1998), can also be transferred to the acquisition of anticipatory skills in the learning process. Some arguments suggest such a transfer of methodical training methods:

1. Recent research in motor learning supports the important link between cognitive processes and motor skill acquisition (cf., Lee, Swinnen & Serrien, 1994; Sherwood & Lee, 2003). Many sport-specific skills consist of both perceptual-cognitive and motor components, which are difficult to separate in experimental studies (Starkes & Allard, 1993). This connection between motor and perceptual components could also point to a possible transfer of motor practice conditions (with a motor focus) to perceptual training programs (with a perceptual focus).

2. Current significant motor theories, such as those supporting random motor learning, contain cognitive explanatory mechanisms (e.g., level-of-processing approach, Lee, 1988). Shea and Morgan (1979) and Shea and Zimny (1983) assumed that under contextual interference (CI), the more difficult a task is, the greater the information processing effort required (elaboration benefit explanation). …

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