Three years ago, Jocelyn Faubert published an article in Scientific Reports that revealed elite athletes to have an extraordinary ability in learning to track complex and dynamic scenes. Certainly this might seem logical, as elite athletes, particular those playing invasion sports (e.g., soccer, hockey, football), are constantly required to track complex and dynamic scenes.
So why has there been scepticism? Let’s begin by discussing Neurotacker.
Faubert developed neurotracker as a method to train individuals to track complex and dynamic scenes. The task requires participants to watch multiple moving balls on a screen. The aim is to identify each ball after they have stopped moving. Task difficulty is manipulated by increasing the number of balls to be tracked and by increasing speed in which the balls are moving.
308 participants completed the Neurotracker learning intervention. Of these participants, 102 were professional athletes. The athletes were recruited from the English Premier League (EPL), the National Hockey League (NHL) and the French Top 14 Rugby League (Top 14). A further 173 were amateur athletes and the remaining 33 were non-athletes.
Results revealed that the elite athletes improved their ability to track the moving objects by a significantly faster rate than the amateur athletes and non-athletes. Moreover, the amateur athletes improved by a significantly faster rate than the non-athletes. Faubert interpreted this as evidence that elite athletes have an extraordinary ability in learning to track objects in dynamic scene.
Certainly the results appear to be compelling, especially given the large sample size. So why are a number of sport scientists sceptical?
One consistent finding about sport expertise that has emerged over the past two decades is that expertise is largely a product of sport-specific skill. For instance, for a while it was thought that basic visual functioning influenced perceptual-cognitive expertise in sport (e.g., decision making). However, we now know that this isn’t the case. Experts do not have superior visual functioning compared to non-athletes. Instead, experts have a superior ability to detect important cues in the environment that are specific to the sport and to identify situational probabilities given the context of a match.
Hence, sport scientists have been sceptical about the idea that experts have a superior ability in learning to track non-sport-specific objects in a dynamic display.
Nonetheless, we should not ignore the argument that experts have superior ability to learn.
Faubert, J. (2013). Professional athletes have extraordinary skills for rapidly learning complex and neutral dynamic visual scenes. Scientific Reports, 3, 1154.