PERCEPTION IN TENNIS AS AN EARLIEST ASPECT OF THE TENNIS MOVEMENT

The purpose of gathering a perceptual information is to be used to produce goal-directed actions. Within the perceptual response, visual system is the dominant sensory system and critical for detecting relevant cues in order to effectively produce an appropriate motor response. As such, for successful performance, an athlete, especially in tennis, must identify and attend to relevant visual cues as early as possible. The visual search strategy reflects to the ways in which a player uses eye movement around the display in order to detect and extract the relevant information. Relevant information and their meaning could be attended to and identified if a player has previous knowledge and experience regarding the locations of the potential sources of relevant information. Identified information can be used as a cue to guide the corresponding motor response. 

Although differences between sports exist due to the specific nature of each game, the general conclusion is that expertise is related to earlier and accurate pick-up of relevant information, to initiate movement behavior constrained by time and space. Additionally, as tennis is characterized by player’s interactions, the speed and trajectory of the ball is determined by the opponent’s actions (predicted and observed) and distance that the player must cover to intercept the object. As these tasks are highly time-constrained and rely to a great extent on the predictive judgment, tennis players have high demands of recognizing opponent’s action intentions by observing their movement momentum when intercepting a moving object (ball). Perceptual abilities of a performance and how and when the player detect and identifies the relevant use can determine the outcome of the play. Implementing the most successful visual search strategies to detect the relevant cues and enhance the perceptual performance should be the priority for most of the training methodologies in tennis. But the visual search efficiency should not be considered solely as the visual detection but an ability (knowledge of) what to extract and how to use timely information available at key fixation locations. As a result, expert players are enabled to adequately anticipate an outcome of an opponent’s action and create earlier movement responses.

How performers use the visual system to pick up relevant information (using central or peripheral vision) and how fast they give those relevant cues certain meaning, determines how efficient do performers coordinate their action around those cues. Sometimes the visual system (perceptual ability) can not initiate the timely motor action (response) due to lack of the cognitive abilities, as not being able to add meaning to those cues.

Successful interceptive reaction is the outcome of the:

1. effective information processing (visual display research attending to relevant cues), 

2. response selection to correspond the opponent’s action and

3. timely motor response initiation.

To minimize delays of the perceptual process, the importance is on identifying the relevant cues and ignoring the irrelevant ones, showing that a training of specific cognitive tasks can improve visual search in tennis. It has been known for some time that the visual search patterns displayed by the expert are not conducted in a random manner, but are based on deliberate perceptual strategies developing game specific cognitive representations in a sport specific context.

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