The effects of sport-specific training on perceptions and actions during a gap crossing task


Athletes have excellent knowledge of their action capabilities. They can therefore be studied to understand elite action strategies through perception-action integration1. It is hypothesized that specifically trained field athletes (rugby, soccer, lacrosse) will have more accurate perceptions of their body size (shoulder width, SW) when avoiding obstacles. These athletes train under time constraints, and are therefore believed to be more accurate when avoiding obstacles in near space, compared to untrained individuals. The purpose of this study was to determine how athletic training influences perception-action integration when navigating around or through spaces. Specifically-trained athletes (N=12) and non-athlete controls (N=8) performed perceptual judgements of passability through varying gap sizes. Participants were asked to walk toward the midline of a body-scaled gap (0.9-1.7 times participants’ SW in 0.2 increments) created by two obstacles, located 5m from the start location and were asked to judge whether they could safely pass between the obstacles, without changing their body dimensions (shrugging, or rotating shoulders). The “yes” or “no” response was recorded. In the obstacle avoidance task, participants walked along a 10m long pathway toward a goal. Two obstacles were again used to create a body-scaled gap ranging between 0.9 and 1.7xSW (0.2 increments) and placed 3m, 5m, or 7m from the start location. Participants were not instructed on how to avoid the obstacles, but were told not to hit them. A repeated measures ANOVA revealed specifically-trained athletes perceived safe passage through gaps greater than or equal to 1.1xSW, where non-athletes perceived safe passage through gaps greater or equal to 1.3xSW (F(1)=3.97, p<.05). However, both groups tended to walk through gaps greater or equal to 1.3xSW, regardless of obstacle distance (F(4)=74.89, p<.05). These results suggest that non-trained individuals may have more consistent perceptual judgements and action strategies than specifically-trained athletes. 1. Vickers (2007). Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL.