Research in sports science may have identified the factors necessary for sporting success, particularly in tennis. Understanding the anticipation ability of a player may be a decisive ingredient in developing exceptional young tennis players.
With the culmination of the Australian open and the relative success of British tennis players in the tournament, fans or apprentices may be interested in why particular stars achieve great heights and what the essential factors are in this achievement. With the help of sports science, which attempts to explain how specific actions and perceptions may be produced with greater precision by some professional athletes, these factors may be elucidated. Research has focused on the importance of mental abilities as well as physical capacity and how these are combined, this inherent complexity may vary in all athletes and the cumulative intelligence of the player may be the principal ingredient in sporting talent.
One element of this intelligence and an important mental capacity is anticipation, which is synonymous with reactivity, desire, hope, expectation and prediction. Being an abstract concept, defining and quantifying anticipation is often challenging. This ability has been shown to predict the success of athletes of many sports including tennis, soccer, badminton and baseball. In tennis, a player’s anticipation has been associated with the level of skill an individual possesses, suggesting a further synonymous relationship. Anticipation may consist of many corresponding abilities.
Research by Triolet and colleagues set out to quantify the ability of anticipation using video technology to record the players’ time taken to respond to an opponent’s ball stroke. Using data from a total of 3000 situations by players ranked in the world’s top 20, the success of the player’s actions depended on many factors. With anticipation in tennis being constrained by court dimensions and uncertain information from unpredictable opponents, the decisions made by individual players vary in potency. The research shows how anticipation behaviour is present for 6-13% of a tennis match, only appearing when an opponent has a distinct tactical advantage.
With a short reaction time needing an individual to make very fast calculations, professional player’s may have shorter visuo-motor delays than novices. In general a decrease in accuracy was seen when a response time was shorter than 140 ms on average. Howarth and colleagues previously showed how skilled players initiated a response around 112.5 ms following an opponent’s ball stroke and lesser skilled player’s on average around 363 ms. Skilled player’s have been shown to be able to anticipate the return of the ball making a more accurate decision at around 87.5 ms before the ball is actually struck in comparison to unskilled players who responded 163 ms after the stroke.
Other research suggests expert player’s may use tactical intelligence involving strategic, positional or probabilistic knowledge. A delayed response in relation to an absence of tactical information may allow players to disguise shots more effectively. How an individual reads information from another player’s posture and also deceives the other, are additionally important factors.
Unsuccessful players tend to cover shorter distance, spend more time in defensive situations and relative zones although move quicker, using more energy. Winners of tennis games often restrain the other player into following a defensive strategy restricting response options, interestingly, a difference between the type of shot or the frequency of these shots played throughout matches between players is far from apparent. The type of surface also influences the strategy a player may use. This demonstrates how the strategy, anticipation and accuracy of response are some of the key elements in tennis sporting success.
Given the significant importance of cognitive factors in tennis and sporting success, it may be of interest to up and coming tennis player’s that these factors may be trained. Research suggests developing anticipation skills may be achieved through perceptual training as well as perception action training; enhancing the ability to pick up on subtle cues. The overall research demonstrates how understanding successful professional tennis players may help to breed young stars.
Why do certain tennis players have higher levels of anticipation?