Sports psychology

[6 abstracts]

1. Reprogramming motor action in tennis: A methodological proposal  
Murgia M., Gherzil A., Crescimbeni M., Righi G., Agostini T.
First author's affiliation: MIS LAB, Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy

During sport activities it is often necessary to modify a motor action when it has already started and doing it efficiently requires cognitive-motor skills that are particularly developed in high level athletes. In the literature there are no studies about motor reprogramming in tennis and there are no psychological tools to assess it. In this work, we created an ecological experimental setting aimed to force a tennis player to modify his/her own action. We divided the bottom court area of the server in three sectors and participants had to return the service in one of these sectors. Each time the subjects were required to throw the ball in the sector that was indicated by a visual cue. The independent variable was the latency of cue presentation. Visual cue could appear before the service (baseline condition) or with a delay since the moment of the racket-ball impact in the service. We analyzed the response accuracy, measured as a capability to throw the ball in the right sector. We also controlled for both action time and service speed. Results suggest that expert tennis players can reorganize efficiently their action with a latency of 500 ms. This setting could be an useful tool for athletes screening and could be used to assess the training efficacy. Furthermore, the same setting could also be used as a training to improve reprogramming motor skills.

2. Perception and action in playing tennis: The role of the acoustic information in tennis service  
Crescimbeni M., Gherzil A., Murgia M., Pin A., Agostini T.
First author's affiliation: MIS LAB, Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy

The aim of this study was to assess the importance of acoustic information in playing tennis during the backward service. The theory demonstrated that athletes without the aid of acoustic information produce an awful performance. To test and verify if the athletes were exposed to a decrement of performance, a setting has been built to measure their action-time and accuracy for every hit. Two experiments have been done. In the first one, the athletes were tested in two conditions: 1) Baseline condition (backward service in normal conditions) 2) Deprivation condition (backward service without acoustic stimulation). Both conditions were replicated in the second experiment but a third level had been added to the independent variable. This level was named Deprivation plus mediated sound condition. In this condition, the acoustic information produced by the impact racket-ball was transmitted to the athlete directly trough the headphones. This was the only acoustic information that the athlete could perceived since the use of the headphones guaranteed a complete isolation from the external environment. This allowed us to understand whether the acoustic information of the impact was ignored or not. The results show that there are two kinds of athletes: those that perform better in the visual/acoustic condition (Baseline) and others that perform better in acoustic deprivation.

3. Perceptual processes elicited in responding to the tennis service  
Gherzil A., Galmonte A., Righi G., Bianchi B., Pin A., Agostini T.
First author's affiliation: Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy

The visual strategies that tennis players use in responding to the service have a determinant role in optimizing the return hit. In fact, the possibility to anticipate the direction of the ball by extracting the information coming from the opponent's movements, allows the athlete to reach his/her aim by saving time and energy. In the first experiment, we studied the ability to predict the trajectory of the stroke in tennis players. In particular, we tested whether there is a difference among tennis players of different expertise levels (unexperienced, amateur and experienced). To analyze this, movies with temporal occlusion were used. More specifically, the image was blocked when the racket of the server came in contact with the tennis ball. The results of this first experiment showed a difference among the different groups. Subsequently, other two experiments were run to test the hypothesis that a video training (with visual stimulus or with acoustic feedback) could improve the performance of unexperienced subjects to anticipate the final destination of the service. The results showed that the visual training did not improve the ability to predict the right trajectory of the ball, while the performance of the subjects improved if a training with acoustic feedback was used. We concluded that visual cues are important elements in predicting the trajectory of the ball. Furthermore, it has been shown that specific training can improve the performance but only if an acoustic feedback is present.

4. Improving service skill in young tennis player: Experimental analysis on the efficacy of the use of video and audio models in training sessions  
Righi G., Ferletic E., Furlan D., Gherzil A., Galmonte A., Agostini T.
First author's affiliation: MIS LAB, Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy

Service skill is very important for tennis players. A professional training is often focused on the research of the best efficacy of the service. In young athlete the training for the improvement of the service skill is always based on the use of models: Usually, the athlete is shown a standard performance by the teacher or by another player. The use of self-modeling is also used as a strategy in tennis training: The athlete is shown her/his standard performance in a video tape before a training session. From a psychological point of view, the use of visual models suggest a question: Are visual models the best way to improve a motor skill, such as the tennis service? Experimental sport psychology research suggests the relevance of an acoustic representation of action as a model for the performance. Audio models of the sport performances are very important in the strategies based on the use of self-model. Results obtained by a systematic use of self-models based on a rhythmical acoustic representation highlight the strong standardization effect due to the use of this kind of models. We investigated the effect of the use of different kinds of self-models, where we manipulated the perceptual information available (visual, acoustic, visuo-acoustic) as a training strategy on 20 young tennis players engaged in a serve task (100 trials). Results show that there are significant differences in the learning rate among athletes trained with different kinds of models: The best result is obtained after acoustic stimulation, the worst one with a visual model, while the visual-acoustic model led to intermediate results. Therefore, data collected with the young tennis players confirm the evidence about the efficacy of the use of a self-model in a training based on acoustic stimulation. The effect of the strategies based on the acoustic models shows a strong tendency to the standardization of the timing of the performance.

5. The visual search in service return in table tennis  [presentation, pdf, 734 kB]
Bianchi B., Pin A., Righi G., Gherzil A., Agostini T.
First author's affiliation: Department of Psychology, Trieste, Italy

This work analyzes the relationship between visual perception and sports performance. Improved technology in table tennis has decreased the number of hits per rally. For this reason, serves and returns become primarily important (Djokic 2003). According to some studies, ball speed can reach 160 km/h (Major & Lang 2003) and spins can reach 8000 rpm (Ushiyama et al., 2003). On the service return, not only that motor response is very important, but visual selection of significant information at the right time is also important. There are few studies on table tennis. More studies have been conducted in other sports like cricket and squash. A previous study on visual search in table tennis takes advantage of eye movements methodology (Ripoll & Fleurance, 1988, 1989; Rodrigues, Vickers & Williams 2002). According to some authors (Williams & Davis 1997, 1998), this methodology presents a disadvantage in that it does not consider incoming information from the periphery of vision. For these reasons we decided to use temporal occlusion and spatial occlusion methodologies in two experiments. The results show a clear relation between time exposure and athletes' performance.

6. Visual cues, temporal factors and motor control in soccer penalty kick  
Pin A., Agostini T., Galmonte A., Righi G., Gherzil A., Bianchi B.
First author's affiliation: Department of Psychology, University of Trieste, Trieste, Italy

Experimental sport psychology studies cognitive processes underlying performance with the aim of its optimization. Twenty goalkeepers were tested by using a temporal occlusion paradigm. The experimental variable was the amount of visual information provided by the penalty kicker during the run-up. Fifteen kickers shot 40 penalties, 10 for each of 4 sectors in which the goal was divided. At the centre of each sector a light bulb marked the target zone. In the baseline condition, the kickers were told in advance where to kick, while in the other conditions they started the run-up without knowing where to shoot. The temporal gap between the visual stimulus presentation and the foot-ball contact was set on 3 anticipation levels: RT (kicker’s reaction time), RT + 300 ms, and RT + 600 ms. Results show that the best goalkeepers' performance corresponded to the baseline condition, whilst a performance decrease was observed for RT condition. The results underline the relevance of available visual cues and of the temporal factors connected to efficiency of anticipation skills.