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Cognitive Skills in Sports Performance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 1845 words Published: 27th Mar 2018

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1. Introduction

Performance in any sports is primarily a result of physical, physiological and psychological training. However, locus of sports training continues to gravitate around physical, biomechanical and physiological factors. In addition to aptitude and capability, mental strength or commonly known as “sportsmanship” is an important yet unexplored facet of performance in sports. According to Young & Pain, mental strength is associated with motivation, concentration, stress and anxiety management, self-confidence, and emotion control. It has been found that physical abilities of most athletes at advanced levels are more homogeneous than their mental abilities. Silva (1984) found that, the distinguishing feature of successful athletes competing at high levels is often their exceptional mental skills.

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Expert performers possess enhanced perceptual cognitive skills, such as, effective attention allocation and cue utilization, each of which have been demonstrated across sports and other domains. Superior performance in sports is readily apparent on observation, underlying functions of perceptual-cognitive mechanisms that contribute to the expert advantage are less evident and inadequately investigated. Perceptual cognitive skills (PCS), refers to the ability to identify and acquire environmental information for integration with existing knowledge such that appropriate responses can be selected and executed (Marteniuk, 1976). Despite importance of these skills being steadily acknowledged in sports domain, widely pervasive conceptual and methodological variability has made it difficult to extract information that can clearly advance the science of expertise and offer practical recommendations to enhance PCS.

Static sports such as shooting and archery require high levels of concentration than physical endurance. Sustaining mind-body equilibrium and master fine motor movements is indispensible to achieve target precision consistently. Compared to novice shooters, expert shooters have been found to perform higher on measures of whole-body stability (Era, Konttinen, Mehto, Saarela&Lyytinen, 1996; Gates, 1918) and muzzle wobble (Chung et al., 2008b).Moreover, the process of aiming at target and confirmation of accuracy by shooter results from intricate association between selective, mental and visual attention. In fact, it is unperturbed selective attention that provides a winning edge to a sharp shooter on the day of competition. During ‘individual fire’, mental attention may be involved in the beginning but visual attention determines target confirmation immediately before firing. Particularly in shooting, consistently hitting the same area of a target (grouping) is difficult, as it demands simultaneous coordination of gross-motor control of body positioning with fine-motor control.

Ackerman’s (1988, 1992) extension of Fitt’s and Posner’s ‘Skill Development Framework’ (1967), specified the relative contribution of perceptual-motor, cognitive and affective skills across the phases, showing the initial importance of aptitude during the learning phase of training. PCS skills contribute less to overall performance in this phase and become increasingly important in the latter phases when trainees already understand the task demands. A characteristic of the learning phase is that performance is fraught with error and a trainee’s cognitive load is high as the trainee attempts to coordinate verbal and motor dimensions of the task. In the later phase, automaticity is highest and is often effortless and requires little overt attention (Ackerman, 1987, 1992; Fitts & Posner, 1967). The cognitive load on performers with respect to execution of task is lowered thus, freeing up mental resources.

Chung et al. (2004) found that performance of less experienced participants was moderately related to these aspects of aptitude and knowledge. However, in a sample of more experienced participants, perceptual-motor skills were a good predictor of performance. Since, role of core cognitive ability such as executive functions is yet to be tested; employing a general battery of cognitive tests may yield predictors of marksmanship performance. Of particular interest to this study are such cognitive abilities which play a role in marksmanship performance and are relatively unexplored.

One such important ability contributing to marksmanship performance is vision perception. In a study by Wells, Wagner, Reich, and Hardigan (2009), researchers found a relationship between marksman’s performance and visual acuity. The process of determining the aim relies upon a steady weapon along with the correct visual perception of the target and sight, which incorporates not only visual acuity but also cognitive aspects of visual perception. However, no scientific study, to the best of author’s knowledge has been conducted to examine the relationship between cognitive visuo-perceptual abilities and marksmanship.

Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine what significant factors or skills and abilities contribute to precise target aiming and deduce what characteristics differentiate elite performers from their counterparts. In order to meet the objectives following null hypothesis were formulated.

The aim of the present study was to ascertain significant factors and abilities that contribute to precise target aiming and extrapolate characteristics that differentiate elite performers from their counterparts. Analysis of the literature indicated that expert performers possess enhanced perceptual-motor skills, such as effective attention allocation and cue utilization, each of which have been demonstrated across sporting and other domains. Unfortunately, shooting has not been conceptualized as a skilled sport and there has been little in the way of theoretical development to point to the set of important variables or processes underlying skilled shooting performance. Thus, we developed hypotheses to examine the relationship between perceptual and psychomotor skills of shooters.

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As hypothesized, that there is a significant difference between successful and unsuccessful shooters in perceptual and motor skills. A significant difference was observed between recommended (successful) and not recommended (unsuccessful) novice shooters. Particularly reasoning ability, spatial visualization, handy steadiness, reaction time and sustained attention of recommended shooters significantly different from than the below non recommended shooters and this indicated that they are better in cognitive and psychomotor abilities (except divided attention) than non-recommended shooters.

In order to test how cognitive and psychomotor skills influence the expert’s shooters performance and to test second hypothesis, a sample of expert shooters was selected who were categorized as above average and below average shooters based on performance appraisal by their coaches and other experts. Results shows that above average shooters are better in sustained attention and handsteadyness. In consistent with our results Humphreys et al., (1936) and McGuigan& MacCaslin, 1955 found that skilled shooters have been able to hold a rifle steadier than unskilled shooters and this steadiness relates positively to shooting performance. Similarly Era, e t al 1996; Gates, 1918; Mononen, et al 2007 found that, expert shooters have been found to be much steadier than Novice shooters. In the discriminant analysis, Handsteadyness and vigilance explain 25.4% of the variance in the dependent variable and it correctly classify 75 % of respondents into ‘Above average’ or ‘below average shooters. Overall predictive accuracy of the discriminant function is called the ‘hit ratio’. Non Recommended shooters were classified with slightly better accuracy (76%) than recommended shooters (72.7 %).

Overall the cognitive and Psychomotor test are significantly predicting the performance of the shooters. Particularly in the novice shooters, parameters related to perceptual style, choice reaction time and handsteadyness play a major factor for predicting the performance. These parameters (except handsteadyness) are measuring the constructs related to logical reasoning and decision making. It may be due the participants are not skilled shooters they are novice, while shooting they required more cognitive resources, because they are in the learning phase. But in the skilled shooters (experienced shooters) sustained attention and Eye hand coordination is significantly predicting performance. Basically these constructs are measuring the alertness and psychomotor coordination, this may be due to the shooters are experienced and they are in the automatic phase, so they are not required much cognitive resources to perform the task. In consistent with our findings Chung et al. (2004) examined the role of cognitive variables in marksmanship performance, focusing on aptitude and knowledge. They found that performance of less experienced participants was moderately related to these aspects of cognition. However, in a sample of more experienced participants, perceptual-motor skills were a good predictor of performance. Similarly Chung et al. (2008b) found that scientific reasoning (aptitude) and knowledge of marksmanship had a dominant influence on task performance during the learning phase and a diminishing one during the practice phase, as predicted by Ackerman’s theory (1988).According to Ackerman’s (1988) theory of skill development predicts differential relations of cognitive and psychomotor to different phases of skill development. When participants are learning the task, cognitive variables should have a higher impact on performance than psychomotor variables, with the opposite relation when participants are in the practice phase.

As a part of this research, to explore how training and competitive experience in shooting improves on perceptual and motor skills, in order to carry out the research , newly inducted (less than five years)and experienced shooters (more than five years ) were identified and administered the Cognitive and psychomotor battery. Results show that abilities like logical reasoning, divided attention and in sustained attention experienced shooters scores are relatively higher than less experienced counterpart, but it’s not statistically significant (except Cognition). It revealed that training, exposure and experience in shooting are not improved much in cognitive and psychomotor skills. From this we can infer that, if the skills are not improved much in training and experience, better it can be identified in the induction level to make successful shooters, before that further in-depth longitudinal study has to be carried out to support this finding.

Overall findings of the study support the cognitive and psychomotor variables have a substantial influence on performance of the shooters.


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