Perceptual-Cognitive Skill

Training pattern recognition did not transfer to improved anticipation accuracy

In 1965, Adriaan de Groot observed that skilled chess players could accurately recall the locations of chess pieces after being shown a chess board. In 1973, this finding was replicated by Herbert Simon – a Nobel Prize winner – and William Chase.

This work was then applied to sport and it was clear that expert athletes had superior pattern recognition skills than non-experts. For example, an elite football player can recognize patterns on a field better than a less skilled player. Pattern recognition has consequently been deemed an important ability that helps athletes make more accurate decisions during competition.

Recently Jamie North and colleagues investigated whether training pattern recognition in soccer would lead to an improved ability to anticipate the next pass in a sequence of play.

The study

64 amateur soccer players participated in the study. The study involved a pre-test, a training period and a post-test. The tests assessed pattern recognition ability and anticipation accuracy, while the training focused exlcusively on pattern recognition.

Participants were allocated into one of four groups.

  1. Verbal instruction group – these participants watched videos of patterns of play and were verbally instructed to look at the key players.
  2. Visual guidance group – these participants watched videos of patterns of play and were visually guided to the key players.
  3. Video only group – these participants watched videos of patterns of play but were not guided to the key players.
  4. Control group – these participants underwent no pattern recognition training.

NOTE: guiding the learner towards key players is thought to enhance pattern recognition ability.

Training involved 4 sessions over 2 weeks, with 30 video clips viewed per session.

The results

There were 2 key results:

  • All groups improved pattern recognition ability. However, the 3 training groups did not improve pattern recognition more than the control group. Hence, the efficacy of the pattern recognition training is unclear.
  • Neither group improved anticipation accuracy.


The results indicate that training pattern recognition does not lead to improved anticipatory skill. However, before we  draw this conclusion, we should also consider that this result might have been due to the training volume being insufficient or perhaps the measurement of anticipation (accuracy and not response speed) was not sensitive enough to detect improvements in anticipatory skill.


North, J. S., Hope, E., & Williams, A. M. (2017). The Role of Verbal Instruction and Visual Guidance in Training Pattern Recognition. Frontiers in Psychology8, 1473.

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