Expert Sports Performance – More Than Deliberate Practice? Exploring the Role of Working Memory

Dragan Glavaš

Abstract


Skilled sports performance which we all admire and enjoy watching would not be possible without deliberate practice and extensive work. As a result of engagement in deliberate practice activities, experts acquire sophisticated and complex skills that, as proposed by the long-term working memory theory (Ericsson & Charness, 1994; Ericsson & Kintsch, 1995), enable them to circumvent basic limits of working memory capacity and sequential processing. Consistent with classical models of skill acquisition (e.g. Anderson, 1982; Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977), Ericsson (2014) stated that acquired mechanisms gradually result in automated processes and circumvent the role of any basic general cognitive capacities. Supported by research on superior perceptual-cognitive skills of experts (e.g. Mann, Williams, Ward, & Janelle, 2007; Williams & Ford, 2008), this view has since become the dominant theoretical account of expertise. However, recent research breakthroughs emphasize the role of working memory in sports performance at different levels of expertise (e.g. Hambrick & Meinz, 2011). In this paper, recent empirical data on the effect of the specific and general cognitive abilities on the performance in complex sports situations are reviewed. Furthermore, a theoretical and empirical contribution of including WM theories that highlight domain-general capacity and attention control in understanding sports performance is discussed, along with their potential to elaborate a general theory of expertise and to contribute to the more comprehensive understanding of expert sports performance.

Keywords


deliberate practice; long-term working memory; expert sports performance; working memory

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