Visual Strategies Underpinning the Development of Visual–Motor Expertise When Hitting a Ball

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Abstract

It is well known that skilled batters in fast-ball sports do not align their gaze with the ball throughout ball-flight, but instead adopt a unique sequence of eye and head movements that contribute toward their skill. However, much of what we know about visual-motor behavior in hitting is based on studies that have employed case study designs, and/or used simplified tasks that fall short of replicating the spatiotemporal demands experienced in the natural environment. The aim of this study was to provide a comprehensive examination of the eye and head movement strategies that underpin the development of visual-motor expertise when intercepting a fast-moving target. Eye and head movements were examined in situ for 4 groups of cricket batters, who were crossed for playing level (elite or club) and age (U19 or adult), when hitting balls that followed either straight or curving (‘swinging’) trajectories. The results provide support for some widely cited markers of expertise in batting, while questioning the legitimacy of others. Swinging trajectories alter the visual-motor behavior of all batters, though in large part because of the uncertainty generated by the possibility of a variation in trajectory rather than any actual change in trajectory per se. Moreover, curving trajectories influence visual-motor behavior in a nonlinear fashion, with targets that curve away from the observer influencing behavior more than those that curve inward. The findings provide a more comprehensive understanding of the development of visual-motor expertise in interception.

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