Developing Interceptive Skills
Interceptive actions common in tasks such as cricket batting and playing tennis also emphasise the importance of practising the perceptual component in connection with the physical aspect of a skill. The time stress associated with skill execution in such tasks typically forces a performer to prepare a response to the opponent before the ball has left the bowler’s hand (in cricket batting) or before the server has made contact with the ball (in the tennis return of serve).
Successful advanced preparation is termed anticipation and is a hallmark of skilled performers. In recent years, a large amount of research has investigated how such perceptual skills can be developed. The first critical aspect of developing skilled anticipation is for the coach to direct the performer’s attention to the critical early information sources (cues) needed to predict an opponent’s movement intention. For example, for the skill of cricket batting, a batter must understand what aspects of the bowler’s mechanics provide the clues to where the ball is about to be bowled.
Sports scientists have demonstrated that for a swing bowler, the time between the bowler’s front-foot impact on the bowling crease to ball release is when key cues such as the position of the bowling hand, wrist and arm must be presented (Müller, Abernethy, & Farrow, 2006). Knowing this information then allows the coach to develop perceptual training drills that help the batter link these advanced cues with the resultant delivery location.
A variety of perceptual training drills have been examined experimentally, and they provide coaches with a number of practice options. Perhaps the most popular practice method has been temporal occlusion. In practical terms, temporal occlusion means blocking the vision of the outcome of a movement sometime before the appearance of ball flight. For example, video footage of a tennis server shot from the perspective of a receiver may be shown to a player, but the player’s vision is occluded (the video clip is blackened out or paused) just at the moment of racquet and ball contact for the serve. This forces the returner watching the video to make a decision about serve location on the basis of precontact cues, such as the racquet head angle or ball toss position. Figure 12.1 shows an example of a temporal occlusion sequence for tennis serving. More information is helpful, but a receiver can extract key anticipatory information from the server before racquet–ball contact (end of row c). Such practice is advantageous to players.
The logic of such training is simple: When players are forced to learn which key kinematics of a server’s action forecast the resultant serve location, they can then use this perceptual skill in the live situation to buy themselves the necessary time to prepare and execute their return. Recently, this video-based training activity has become even more realistic through the use of liquid crystal occlusion goggles that allow players to experience temporal occlusion as they return serve or bat in cricket against a live opponent. Figure 12.2 shows a pair of liquid crystal occlusion goggles being used to train the perceptual (anticipatory) skill of a tennis returner. With the push of a button, the coach can occlude the vision of the player.
Because not all coaches have access to advanced technology as previously described, less technologically dependent strategies are available. For example, asking tennis receivers to close their eyes at racquet–ball contact, getting servers or bowlers to complete their service or bowling actions from a position closer to the receiver or batsman to increase the time stress experienced, or even using items such as a coloured dishwashing glove on the bowler’s hand to draw the batman’s attention to the location of critical advance information are all useful approaches for developing perceptual skill.