In the sporting domain, pattern recognition and recall refer to the capability of athletes to recognize or recall the patterns formed by the configuration of key elements (such as teammates and opposing players) that exist within the playing environment. An enhanced capability to quickly and accurately extract information from these unique pattern structures has been suggested to contribute to other important sports skills such as anticipation (i.e., predicting future events such as the movements of other players) and decision making (DM) (i.e., deciding what to do next). This entry briefly outlines the basic methodological approaches used to measure pattern recognition and recall as well as summarizes the results from empirical research in this area.
Pattern recognition performance is typically measured in two phases. In the first phase, participants are shown a series of patterns presented sequentially. The task in this initial phase generally requires participants to either memorize each of the presented patterns or make some form of a decision such as determining what they think will happen next in each particular scenario. In both cases, the principal objective is to encourage participants to closely attend to the patterns. Shortly after the first phase, participants are shown another series of patterns but on this occasion, the series contains some patterns that were displayed in the first phase (usually 50%) and some patterns that are entirely new. When each pattern is presented, participants are asked to determine whether it is a previously seen pattern or a new pattern. Recognition performance is then measured by the number of correct responses.
The method used to measure pattern recall performance in team sports typically involves presenting experienced and lesser-skilled participants with a series of stimulus patterns extracted from a specific sport. Each pattern is displayed to the participants for a few seconds before it is removed from view. Once it is removed, participants are required to recall the final locations of the players in the pattern by placing or drawing icons of the players on a scaled diagram of the playing area. The patterns themselves can be displayed in a number of ways with the more common approaches using schematic images (where icons are used to show the locations of players), static slides (still images such as photographs that have been taken from an actual game), or videos (video footage of an actual game). Each pattern is carefully selected to ensure it is either highly structured (i.e., shows the locations of players as they would appear in a typical game) or relatively unstructured (i.e., shows an atypical pattern where players are located in random positions that do not reflect game structure, such as when the game has been disrupted by a time-out). Recall performance is assessed by comparing the location of each player in the actual pattern to those indicated by the participant and, from this, generating an overall recall accuracy (or recall error) score.
Studies employing the pattern recognition and recall methodologies have generally shown a significant advantage for experts over lesser-skilled participants when the patterns depict gamelike information, but this advantage typically declines when the patterns become more unstructured. This demonstrates that expert performance on recognition and recall is moderated by the amount of structure contained within the patterns themselves. For example, A. Mark Williams and his colleagues have shown that experts extract information from the interrelationships that exist between the elements in the patterns, and this perceptual information is utilized by experts more so than some of the finer details, such as the specific postural orientation of the players in the image. Their research has also revealed that this structural information may in fact transfer between sports, particularly those that have similar rules, tactics, and playing structures. This may help explain how experts from one team sport are sometimes able to perform quite well in other, similarly structured team sports.
It is also believed that the structural information may play an important functional role in anticipation and DM in the normal competitive setting. Research by A. Mark Williams and Keith Davids in 1995, for example, suggested that an enhanced capability to recall the configurations of players in an evolving team sport pattern may assist experts to anticipate the next most likely outcome to occur in the playing sequence. Further support for the use of pattern information in anticipation was provided by André Didierjean and Evelyn Marmèche, who used a recognition task to show that the encoding of structured patterns includes anticipatory information where the future locations of the players in the pattern are incorporated into the memory representation. However, K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues have argued that memory-based tasks, such as recognizing and recalling patterns of play, are not a requirement of normal participation and so the extent to which pattern recognition and recall skill actually contributes to performance in the competitive environment remains an area of scientific debate.
Tests examining pattern recognition and recall skill have helped researchers to better understand the nature of expert performance and the underlying mechanisms that contribute to perceptual skill in team sports and other domains. An understanding of the key characteristics that contribute to expert performance can help practitioners design training sessions that specifically target the underlying variables that significantly enhance the development of skilled performance.
- Allard, F., Graham, S., & Paarsalu, M. E. (1980). Perception in sport: Basketball. Journal of Sport Psychology, 2, 14–21.
- Didierjean, A., & Marmèche, E. (2005). Anticipatory representation of visual basketball scenes by novice and expert players. Visual Cognition, 12, 265–283.
- Ericsson, K. A., & Smith, J. (1991). Prospects and limits of the empirical study of expertise: An introduction. In K. A. Ericsson & J. Smith (Eds.), Toward a general theory of expertise: Prospects and limits (pp. 1–38). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Smeeton, N. J., Ward, P., & Williams, A. M. (2004). Do pattern recognition skills transfer across sports? A preliminary analysis. Journal of Sports Sciences, 22, 205–213.
- Williams, A. M., Hodges, N. J., North, J. S., & Barton, G. (2006). Perceiving patterns of play in dynamic sport tasks: Investigating the essential information underlying skilled performance. Perception, 35, 317–332.
- Williams, M., & Davids, K. (1995). Declarative knowledge in sport: A by-product of experience or a characteristic of expertise? Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 17, 259–275.