It really does depend: an exploration into the dichotomous positions held across the psycho-motoric concomitants to high-level performance
Collins, Rosemary Caroline
As the practice of performance psychology has evolved, so too has the underpinning knowledge within this field. Throughout this evolution, however, a number of theoretical stances or positions have emerged which often sit in stark contrast to one another, therefore creating divides or disagreements amongst the practitioners attempting to optimise translational impact. Accordingly, this thesis aimed to explore these contrasting positions, presented as paired dichotomies, and better understand which side of the dichotomy was more representative of high-level performance and/or practice. Of note, these dichotomies were divided into absolutist (whereby the positions or contentions made were seen as the explanations) versus nuanced (in which a number of possible explanations exist to explain performance) positions. As an applied practitioner and academic, this thesis employed a pragmatic philosophy which meant that a number of real world scenarios that I, and my peers, often encounter were explored in order to better understand the dichotomies. These were examined through three empirical studies and one desk-based study, exploring a variety of sports. Following a literature based desktop study, the veracity of the belief in ‘natural talent’ was explored through a literature and media analysis in Motorsport. Next, EEG measures were taken during a Golf-putting task in which participants used two different visual aiming styles. In the second empirical chapter, the role of cognition and understanding in decision making by elite Rugby Union players was explored. Finally, to consider a sport which has not experienced as much, if any, formal coaching, I sought to understand the practice habits and learning tools of Skateboarding performers. Taken together, the results of this research indicate the following: i) from a learning perspective, performers are not born with a natural talent, but instead develop their skills and a number of effortful learning behaviours through both deliberate cognitive processes as well as an ongoing interaction with their environment; ii) from a learning, performance and refinement perspective, performers still require a combination of cognition and explicit knowledge as well as an ongoing interaction with the environment, notably, practitioners are able to switch between appropriate levels of focus as required; and iii) exclusively from a performance perspective, very little execution is fully automatic and instead, scalable cognition is required for high-level performance. In short, practitioner should take an ‘it depends’ approach to their research and practice.