Learning field sense

Wired has an article on ‘field sense’ – a sportsman’s ability to infer seemingly unknowable information from subtle perceptual cues.

This means that some sportsman appear to have a ‘sixth sense’ of where players are on the field, or can work out where a ball is likely to go before it is struck.

This tends to be present in pro-sportsman and previously, it was just thought to be something you’re born with. An advantage that makes some people more likely to rise to the top.

Wired magazine covers recent research in sports psychology suggesting it’s actually something that it learnt, and might well be teachable.

What happened in that fraction of a second? A lot, Farrow reasoned. Up to a point, he theorized, the direction of a serve was fundamentally unpredictable: Whatever clues existed weren’t ones that an opposing player could discern. By the time the ball had been hit, on the other hand, even a novice could make a plausible guess at its trajectory. What separated the pros from everyone else was the ability to pull directional information out of the early stages of a swing and therefore to predict a split second earlier where to head. This fraction of time is game- changing. A serve going 120 miles per hour takes approximately a third of a second to travel the 60 feet from baseline to service line. This means that an expert, who doesn’t have to wait until contact, has twice as long to move, plant his feet, and swing.

This discovery fit with something Farrow and other tennis researchers had already suspected: Reflex speed is not the key factor in returning a serve. “People have tested casual players and experts, and their reaction times are essentially the same,” Farrow says. The fact that Roger Federer can drill back a 140-mile-per-hour serve is partly a matter of muscle control. But it’s also about processing subtle visual cues to predict where the ball will go and get to the right spot.

Link to article ‘Wayne Gretzky-Style ‘Field Sense’ May Be Teachable’.

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