Research Article: The effect of a sequential structure of practice for the training of perceptual-cognitive skills in tennis

Date Published: March 29, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): David P. Broadbent, Paul R. Ford, Dominic A. O’Hara, A. Mark Williams, Joe Causer, Jaime Sampaio.


Anticipation of opponent actions, through the use of advanced (i.e., pre-event) kinematic information, can be trained using video-based temporal occlusion. Typically, this involves isolated opponent skills/shots presented as trials in a random order. However, two different areas of research concerning representative task design and contextual (non-kinematic) information, suggest this structure of practice restricts expert performance. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of a sequential structure of practice during video-based training of anticipatory behavior in tennis, as well as the transfer of these skills to the performance environment.

In a pre-practice-retention-transfer design, participants viewed life-sized video of tennis rallies across practice in either a sequential order (sequential group), in which participants were exposed to opponent skills/shots in the order they occur in the sport, or a non-sequential (non-sequential group) random order.

In the video-based retention test, the sequential group was significantly more accurate in their anticipatory judgments when the retention condition replicated the sequential structure compared to the non-sequential group. In the non-sequential retention condition, the non-sequential group was more accurate than the sequential group. In the field-based transfer test, overall decision time was significantly faster in the sequential group compared to the non-sequential group.

Findings highlight the benefits of a sequential structure of practice for the transfer of anticipatory behavior in tennis. We discuss the role of contextual information, and the importance of representative task design, for the testing and training of perceptual-cognitive skills in sport.

Partial Text

Performance in most sports involves the execution of perceptual-cognitive and motor skills to affect the current environmental situation [1]. Perceptual-cognitive skill involves the ability to use vision to locate and identify key environmental information so as to process and integrate it with existing knowledge in order to make judgments to predict opponent and teammate behavior (anticipation) and to select and execute appropriate actions (decision making) [2]. Researchers examining these skills often use video-based tasks that are occluded at key time points (e.g., opponents’ ball-racket contact). The majority of this research has focused on testing and training the use of advanced postural information to anticipate the outcome of isolated opponent actions using video-based tasks [3]. These tasks attempt to recreate conditions experienced when performing in the sport, so as to promote transfer of learning from the task to performance environment, while maintaining experimental control (for a review, see [4]). Using these methods, researchers have shown that experts across multiple sports are superior at anticipating opponent actions compared to less-skilled counterparts. Moreover, anticipation can be improved using video-based training, with researchers demonstrating transfer from this type of training to field-based settings [5]. However, concerns have been raised regarding the experimental designs employed [6] including the absence of contextual information in these tasks [7]. A suggestion is that this approach may be restricting the advancement of knowledge and the application of findings to the performance environment. In the current paper, we seek to address some of these limitations by examining the effect of practice structure (and a manipulation of contextual information) on the transfer of anticipation in tennis from a video-based training task to a field-based setting.

Fig 2 shows mean RA for the two groups on the pre-test (sequential, non-sequential), three practice sessions, and the retention test (sequential, non-sequential).

In the current study, video-based training using footage of tennis rallies was used to examine the effect of practice structure on the retention and transfer of anticipatory behavior in tennis. Participants viewed the rallies in either a sequential or a non-sequential order during training. Anticipation performance was measured over a pre-test, three practice sessions, a laboratory retention test, and a field-based transfer test. In the laboratory retention test, both groups were expected to improve anticipation performance compared to the pre-test. However, it was predicted that the sequential structure group would demonstrate superior RA in the retention test due to the increased task functionality and the additional information available during practice, when compared to the non-sequential group [6, 7]. Similarly, in the field-based transfer test it was expected that both groups would reduce DT following practice, but the sequential group would demonstrate faster DT compared to the non-sequential group. It was predicted that cognitive effort across practice would be lower for the sequential group, as the information available in that condition was presented in a more interpretable manner, when compared to a non-sequential structure of practice [28].




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