The Psychology of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks in Sports
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The Psychology of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks in Sports

Ronnie Lidor, Gal Ziv, Ronnie Lidor, Gal Ziv

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eBook - ePub

The Psychology of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks in Sports

Ronnie Lidor, Gal Ziv, Ronnie Lidor, Gal Ziv

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In practice settings, competitions, and games, athletes are often required to perform an arsenal of motor tasks in dynamic and challenged sporting environments, where they have to respond without having enough time to prepare themselves for the act. However, in many sport activities athletes also perform closed self-paced motor tasks – tasks that take place in a relatively stable and predictable environment, where there is adequate time to prepare for their execution. Among these tasks are free-throw shots in basketball, putting in golf, serving in tennis, and bowling.

In these tasks, performers are able to plan their actions in advance. They can activate a plan, a strategy, a protocol, or a procedure – what we term a ritual behavior. Effective rituals are usually achieved with a high degree of consistency. That is, either deliberately or subconsciously they become an integral part of the act itself. The Psychology of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks in Sports explores those plans, procedures, protocols, strategies, and techniques that aim at facilitating the performance and learning of closed self-paced motor tasks. Included in the instructional-psychological routines discussed in this book are pre-performance routines, focusing attention, motor imagery, enhanced expectancies, autonomy support, gaze strategies, self-talk, and periodization.

The routines discussed in the book are evidence-based. Based on updated reviews of laboratory and field inquiries on the discussed instructional-psychological routines, practical implications are given for those professionals who teach closed self-paced motor tasks, including coaches, instructors, and sport psychology consultants.

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1 Ritual Behaviors in Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks

Ronnie Lidor
DOI: 10.4324/9781003148425-1
In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman (2011) proposed a two-system model of how the brain forms thoughts – System 1 and System 2. System 1 is the intuitive “gut reaction” way of thinking and making decisions. It is believed that System 1 regulates unconscious activities, such as recognizing faces, avoiding obstacles, and playing practiced skills in sport (e.g., shooting a two-point shot during a basketball game). System 2 is the analytical, slow, and “critical thinking” way of making decisions (e.g., parking in a narrow space, shooting a free throw in basketball). In System 1, the individual's reaction is quick and automatic (i.e., the shooter in basketball is under defensive pressure and is required to shoot the ball as fast as possible without dwelling on the act or its outcome). In System 2, the performer is more deliberate and reflective (e.g., the free-throw shooter is free of defense and may use a short interval of time to prepare him/herself for the shooting act and plan what he or she is going to do during the act).
More than five decades prior to the ideas generated by Kahneman (2011) of how the brain forms thoughts, Poulton (1957) proposed one of the task classifications that has been used extensively by both researchers and practitioners in the domains of motor skill acquisition and sport psychology. Although Poulton's classification is geared to predictions in industrial work, it is certainly applicable to the performance and learning of motor tasks. Poulton classified tasks by the level of environmental predictability – the extent to which the environment is stable and predictable during an actual performance. Poulton's framework has been further discussed in the literature examining instructional and psychological aspects of motor skill acquisition (see Gentile, 1972, 2000; Lidor, 2007, 2020; Schmidt et al., 2019).
According to the concept of environmental predictability, tasks performed in sport settings can be classified as either closed tasks or open tasks. Closed tasks are those that take place in relatively stable and predictable settings, where adequate time is provided to prepare for their execution. Examples of these tasks are putting in golf and shooting a free throw in basketball. Open tasks are those performed in varied and unpredictable environments, for example, dribbling in basketball, passing in team handball, and attacking an opponent in judo. Those who are required to perform an open task are not able to pre-plan their acts, but performers of a closed task know in advance, what they are going to do.

Closed Self-Paced Tasks

This book, The Psychology of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks in Sports, is devoted to examine the performance of closed motor tasks. The chapters comprising this volume focus on the instructional and psychological aspects of closed self-paced motor tasks. The performed (closed) tasks can be either self- or externally paced (Lidor et al., 2014). If performers are able to determine when to initiate the execution of the closed task, then presumably they are executing a self-paced task, such as a free throw in basketball or a long jump in track and field. However, when performers are externally signaled when to initiate the closed act, such as the takeoff in the 100-m dash in track and field, the takeoff in the 200-m free-style race in swimming, or the penalty throw in water polo, they are performing an externally paced task.

The Case of the Free Throw in Basketball

The following example – the free throw in basketball – can illustrate the unique instructional/psychological characteristics of a closed self-paced motor task. A free throw in basketball is awarded to the player after a foul was made against him or her, or when another rule infraction was committed by one of the players of the opposing team (International Basketball Federation, 2020). The shooter performing the free-throw knows in advance how he or she is going to perform the throw, and under what conditions. The environmental settings are stable (e.g., the distance of the shot from the basket, the angle of the shot, and the height of the basket), and the same style of shooting is used by the player each time he or she stands on the free-throw line.
The free throw is considered a closed self-paced task, meaning the shooter is able to determine when to initiate the shooting act. According to the international rules of the game (International Basketball Federation, 2020), basketball players have 5 seconds to prepare themselves for the free-throw act, with the exception of the 10-second time period permitted for those playing in the National Basketball Association (NBA) (NBA Official, 2020). When basketball players know in advance how much time is available to them, they can release the ball when they feel comfortable and ready to do so. They can decide not only what to do during this preparation interval, but also how to use the time officially allotted to them, taking into account their professional needs and preferences. This idea of the shooter's ability not only to select what to do before releasing the ball but also how to do it, can be demonstrated in the following quote by Larry Bird, the former NBA star: “Whatever your routine is, go through it before each free throw. Be patient. Relax. You have 10 seconds to shoot” (Bird, 1983, p. 50).
While standing on the free-throw line before the execution of the shot, players are exposed to a unique psychological situation. They are standing alone at center stage, receiving all the attention – from the players on their team as well as those from the opposing team, the coaches, and the crowd at large. All eyes are directed toward them. They have to cope alone with the heavy psychological load they are carrying, particularly during the 5- or 10-second preparation period prior to the shooting act, without any assistance from their teammates. For example, shooters must ignore external distractions made by the players from the opposing team, as well as noise generated by the crowd in the basketball arena. In addition, they have to cope with internal distracting thoughts that may negatively affect their shooting performance. Players might be saying, “I wish somebody else was standing here making this shot,” or “I know I am going to miss.” They have to ignore these distractions and focus solely on the task.
The psychological state of the free-throw shooter is a challenge that needs to be coped with, not only by novice players who lack experience performing in such situations, but also by skilled performers. For example, it has been reported that the successful free-throw shooting percentage of male college and professional adult players is only about 75% (Lidor et al., 2012). Despite the advantages associated with shooting free throws, among them the short distance of the shot and the absence of defense, basketball players may have difficulty excelling in shooting from the free-throw line.

Ritual Behaviors in Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks

In this book, we relate to the closed self-paced task as a micro sporting event (Lidor et al., 2014). A micro event is considered to be a specific event within a macro event – the “big” event in which the athlete is engaged, such as a practice session, a competition, or a game. For example, a free throw in basketball is a micro event within the basketball game – the macro event. The same is true for other closed self-paced tasks, such as the serve in badminton, squash, tennis, table tennis, or volleyball; the serve is considered to be a micro event within the match or game, which is a macro event. In these micro events, athletes can activate task-specific routines that can assist them in achieving a high level of athletic proficiency.
Task-specific routines can be defined as a set of physical and psychological behaviors (Lidor, 2020; Lidor et al., 2014). This set of behaviors is typically composed of motor, cognitive, and emotional routines. Task-specific routines can be employed immediately prior to the performance as well as during the performance of the closed self-paced task. If time permits, these routines can be also implemented after the completion of the task. For example, a basketball player is rewarded with one free throw. After completing the task – either successfully or missing the target – the player has to continue to play and therefore does not have the time to implement a post-performance routine. However, if the player is rewarded with two or three free throws in a row, then he or she can activate not only pre- and during-performance routines, but also post-performance routines (see Lidor, 2009).
Indeed, immediately prior to the beginning of the macro event – a basketball game, a soccer game, or a judo combat, athletes can also employ routines. Among these are a warm-up session composed of a fixed set of physical drills, or a rehearsal session where key technical and tactical elements related to the macro event are mentally practiced. Sport scientists (e.g., Bompa & Buzzichelli, 2015; Bompa et al., 2019) have argued that these routines assist athletes to prepare themselves physically and psychologically for the upcoming macro event. In this book, we elaborate upon the activation of plans, protocols, strategies, and techniques, or what we term ritual behaviors, in which control over motor, cognitive, and emotional aspects of the closed self-paced motor task is attained.
As noted by Currey (2018) in his book Daily Routines – How Artists Work, routines have been established and adopted consistently by numerous leading novelists, philosophers, poets, mathematicians, and scientists, in order to help them control their environment, and in turn to enable them to be focused while trying to develop their ideas. Currey notes that routines were used by Charles Dickens, George Gershwin, Karl Marx, Pablo Picasso, as well as many others, on a daily basis, to enable them to complete the work they loved to do.
Throughout the various chapters of the current book different patterns of ritual behavior are examined that can be activated by athletes prior to, during, and following the performance of the closed self-paced motor task. It is our aim to discuss ritual behavior that is evidence based and can be adopted by athletes each time they prepare themselves for the execution of a closed self-paced motor task, in both practice and game/competition settings. The instructional-psychological routines discussed in the book can help athletes to cope effectively with the psychological load placed on them while performing closed, self-paced sport tasks. These routines, if planned in advance and performed consistently, should help performers stay focused during the act, increase self-confidence, and overcome failure. They should be considered as an integral part of the closed self-paced motor task.

Structure of the Book

The book is composed of 14 chapters written by leading international experts in their domain of interest. This chapter (Chapter 1) provides a detailed introduction/rationale for the book. Chapters 213 focus on different instructional-psychological routines related to closed self-paced motor tasks; each chapter discusses only one routine/theme. Chapter 14 draws a number of observations that emerged from Chapters 2 to 13 and provides reflections on ritual behaviors and closed self-paced tasks.
Chapter 2, The Neural Correlates of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks (Oron Levin and Werner Helsen), provides an overview of neural systems underlying oculomotor and upper limb control, which are inherent in the superior performance of closed self-paced motor tasks in sport and professional settings. The chapter focuses on the role of the parieto-frontal network, mirror neuron system, and the cerebellum, and questions their involvement in visuomotor transformations and processing of an efference copy in the preparation and execution of the tasks. Then, the authors discuss the potential involvement of the mirror neuron system in skill acquisition, and the neural correlates of imitation learning of complex motor actions as well as of pre-performance routines. In addition, the chapter considers the neural correlates of task-related attentional control and highlights potential brain networks (specifically, the default mode network and the dorsal attention network) that may underlie perceptual processes associated with skill acquisition. Throughout the chapter, overviews of brain imaging studies that attempted to investigate the brain circuitry involved in the regulation of closed self-paced motor tasks are provided, and future avenues for research in this field are proposed.
Chapter 3, Functional Variability Enhances Performance in Self-paced Tasks: An Ecological Dynamics Approach (Duarte Araújo, Carl Woods, Chris McCosker, João Carvalho, Ian Renshaw, and Keith Davids), stresses that self-paced sport tasks require the reorganization of movement patterns under varying performance conditions. The lower degree of spatial and temporal performance outcome variability observed in those with expertise has received much attention, with two main explanations traditionally related to motor programming and a contemporary explanation linked with ecological dynamics. The chapter describes an ecological dynamics approach, proposing that performance consistency reflects the functional adaptation of movements, regulated by a continuous flow of information. The authors exemplify how information continuously regulates performance during closed self-paced actions, such as in kicking a “set shot” at the goal in Australian-rules football, running to hit a take-off board in the long jump in track and field, and serving in tennis. These exemplars are presented as individualized interventions in the practice setting.
Chapter 4, Quiet Eye, Performance, and Learning of Closed Self-Paced Aiming Tasks (Gal Ziv and Ronnie Lidor), argues that in order to interact successfully with the environment, humans rely on – among other things – perceptual-cognitive skills, defined as the ability to acquire environmental information and integrate it with existing knowledge in order to select and perform correct responses. Such perceptual-cognitive skills are dependent on the performers' gaze behavior or on the way they move their eyes so that they may acquire the relevant information for the current task at hand. The chapter examines one type of gaze, termed Quiet Eye (QE), and its effectiveness on the performance of closed self-paced aiming tasks. The authors provide a conceptualized definition and the empirical background for the QE phenom...


  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Series Page
  4. Title Page
  5. Copyright Page
  6. Contents
  7. List of figures
  8. List of tables
  9. About the contributors
  10. 1 Ritual Behaviors in Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  11. 2 The Neural Correlates of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  12. 3 Functional Variability Enhances Performance in Self-paced Tasks: An Ecological Dynamics Approach
  13. 4 Quiet Eye, Performance, and Learning of Closed Self-Paced Aiming Tasks
  14. 5 Focusing Attention in Closed Self-Paced Tasks
  15. 6 Enhanced Expectancies in Learning Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  16. 7 Autonomy Support in Motor Performance and Learning
  17. 8 The Use of Motor Imagery in Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  18. 9 The Use of Self-Talk in Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  19. 10 Modifying Technique in Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  20. 11 Teaching Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks in Virtual Reality
  21. 12 Performance Under Pressure in Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  22. 13 Combining Periodization with Sport Psychology to Optimize Performance of Closed Self-Paced Motor Tasks
  23. 14 Instructional and Psychological Observations and Future Reflections
  24. Index