Should computer tasks be used to assess decision making skill in sport?

Anticipating and decision making are critical skills in sport. The best players more accurately anticipate an opponents actions and consistently make correct decisions.

For coaches and scientists, quantifying perceptual-cognitive skills, such as anticipation and decision making, has proven difficult. Computer-based tasks that require players to watch a video and make a decision have dominated the landscape thus far. These tasks are thought to represent well-controlled measures of perceptual-cognitive skill as performance on the tasks discriminates between expert and novice performers.

However, the downside of computer-based tasks is that they are far removed from actual competition. Most notably, they lack the dynamic interaction between the player and the environment.

The Experiment

Mariette van Maarseveen and colleagues sought to discover how well computer-based tasks predict performance during competition in soccer.

Skilled junior female soccer players participated in the study. They were first filmed playing 3 v 3 small sided games, whereby every action (e.g, a pass, a shot, etc.) was notated and awarded a score. The score represented how successful the action was. This scoring system was validated by van Maarseveen in a separate study.

The participants were then required to perform 3 computer-based tasks. These tasks measured (1) anticipation, (2) decision-making and (3) pattern-recall (i.e., the ability to recall the position of players).

Key Finding

No significant correlation was found between performance on the 3 computer-based tasks and performance during competition. Indeed, the largest correlation was r=0.26, which represents a weak relationship.

What does this mean for computer-based tasks?

There is no doubt that computer-based tasks tap some of the important perceptual-cognitive skills in sport, as evidenced by the consistent differences between experts and novices. However, due to the obvious differences between a computer task and actual competition, it might be that computer tasks are not sensitive enough to differentiate between players of similar skill level.

For instance, if a coach wants to know the best decision-maker amongst a group of highly skilled football players, a computer-based task probably won’t be able to answer this.

Studies should seek to replicate this research across several sports. This will provide a clear picture regarding the efficacy of computer-based tasks to measure perceptual-cognitive skill.

Reference

van Maarseveen, M. J., Oudejans, R. R., Mann, D. L., & Savelsbergh, G. J. (2016). Perceptual-cognitive skill and the in situ performance of soccer players. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-17.

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