Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The A - Z of Sports Vision - X-Axis

I read quite a few scientific papers (so you don’t have to), but I despaired of finding anything X-related until I came across a paper by Rienhof et al published in “Frontiers in Psychology” last year.
The authors wanted to see if the perceptual skills required for expertise in one sport could be transferred to another sport. I’ve talked about the “Quiet Eye” a few times. In basketball, for instance, experts have a longer Quiet Eye period, where they fixate a precise target such as a particular part of the rim, than lesser players. The authors of this paper wanted to see if that advantage would be transferred if elite basketball players took up a new sport that also involved throwing, such as darts. They suggest that free throw misses may be more likely to be due to horizontal errors than vertical ones (I actually don’t see why that should be true, but never mind for now). Given that in both darts and basketball you’re throwing towards a target that’s straight in front of you, but at different heights, they said that differences between the free throw task and the darts task might be greater in the y-axis (vertical) than in the x-axis (horizontal). They therefore speculated that expert basketball players would be more accurate in the horizontal plane when throwing darts, but no more accurate in the vertically. They found that skilled basketball players were more accurate at throwing darts (none of them had thrown darts before). Furthermore, they found that the skilled players did indeed show significantly smaller deviations on the x-axis, but the y-axis deviation was similar for both groups. They didn’t find, however, any differences in the Quiet Eye period between the two groups when playing darts. This suggests that either the Quiet Eye is specific to a particular task, or that it is only displayed once the skill has to some degree been learnt. It seems logical to me that if you’ve achieved a high level of expertise at one throwing task, you will to some extent be able to transfer that to another throwing task. It could take a while however to work out the precise visual cues required to become an expert at the new sport. Give time, I suspect that the expert basketball players would work it out before the lesser players did. David Donner