Linking perception to action in sport

Brendan Barrett (Bradford), John Buckley (Bradford), Julie Harris, Simon Bennett (Liverpool John Moores) and Alice Cruickshank (Bradford) (funded by BBSRC)

Our understanding of visual brain processing has made major advances in recent years and yet, we are still a long way from understanding how visual neural processing limits fine-motor control as we interact with the environment around us. Such neural processing limitations will be particularly important where humans operate at the limit of their motor abilities and one such area is in elite sport. Elite versus non-elite differences in anticipatory skills have consistently been reported. However, there are unsubstantiated claims that these differences stem from an underlying superiority in the visual processing capabilities of elites. Past research in sportspeople has relied upon the use of standard clinical measures of vision. We argue that these are not sufficient to test specific neural visual function, and propose tests that will probe visual brain processing in detail, in participants with skills levels ranging from novice to elite. Interestingly, associations between military flying performance and laboratory, but not clinical, tests of vision have previously been reported. Our visual measures will include speed and motion discrimination, and tests of stereovision, and time-to-contact and flow parsing for dynamic targets. We will relate performance on these tests to catching performance for which we will have success measures and kinematic data. We start by examining the link between visual and catching ability under optimal viewing conditions but will repeat both the sensory and visuo-motor testing under conditions of degraded vision if differences in visual ability between good and poor catchers are not apparent with full vision. To assess the generalizability of our findings we will compare visual performance with that of a generic (pointing) task. Our aim is to characterise the nature of the relationship between visual sensory and visuo-motor behaviour using elite sport as a vehicle for the assessment of more general neural perception and action links.