Ward, Paul and Hoffman, Robert (2015) Reflections on the science of perceptual-cognitive expertise in sport: Where have we been and where are we going? In: 14th Annual European Congress on Sport Psychology, 14-19 July 2015, Bern, Switzerland. (Unpublished)

Over the past half-century, researchers have described some perceptual and memory skills that support expert performance in sport, as well as important preparation activities and practice histories that precede the attainment of expertise. Such descriptions are paramount for theory development, especially when associated phenomena are not well understood or a complete explanation has yet to be formed. Fewer advances have been made in describing cognitive skills associated with sports expertise, the associated context in which they occur, or macro- rather than micro-level cognitive functions and processes. Furthermore, only a handful of attempts have been made to induct theoretical explanations and/or abduct testable predictions from these descriptions in a manner that would support the development of reliable training interventions. Instead, three trends have emerged: (i) A tendency toward post-diction where data are explained after the fact, rather than subjected to a strong a priori test; (ii) A methodology aimed at creating conceptual cognitive models or statistically fitted descriptions of the data, where the data that the model fits are those that gave the idea for the explanation; and (iii) A focus on microcognitive phenomena as the only genuinely scientific basis for a science of expertise. Rather than a cumulative science have we fallen foul to Newell’s (1973), Feynman’s (1974), and Miller’s (1986) infamous criticisms about the "dismemberment" of cognition and the piecemeal nature of scientific practice? In this talk, I will discuss the need to generate useful models of expertise that are capable of reliable prediction and effective control. I will discuss the need to study perceptual-cognitive expertise at the macrocognitive level in order to stitch back together the microcognitive acts that have been dissected under experimental scrutiny. These paradigms are complementary and both are necessary for a complete theory of perceptual-cognitive expertise in sport, and of cognition more broadly.

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