INTUITIVE PLAY IN TEAM SPORTS
In scientific terminology, 'reading the play' refers to pattern recall or recognition. Watching a team sport like Rugby Union is a classic example of watching a continuously changing pattern. Interestingly, while the pattern may look meaningless to the untrained eye, that is fourteen players sprinting and dodging in all directions, to an expert player (or coach) it can all look completely logical and can inform them in advance as to where the ball is about to be passed. This is quite a handy skill to have if your job requires you to intercept as many opposition passes as possible - just ask Brian Habana.
What has chequers got to do with team sports?
Pattern recall was first investigated in the game of chequers. Research was able to demonstrate that grandmasters could sum up a board in one glance. When they were provided with five to ten seconds to look over a specific chequers situation, the best players could accurately recall the exact location of ninety percent of the chips.
Lesser skilled players could only remember fifty percent. The researchers concluded that the grandmasters could 'chunk' the chips on the board into fewer, larger chunks of information that were more easily remembered and subsequently recalled to produce the required pattern, in much the same manner as we all remember frequently used telephone numbers as one block of numbers rather than as eight individual numbers.
Sports science has demonstrated that elite team-sport players also possess the analytical mind of a chequers master. For example, research has identified that elite players have developed the ability to rapidly recognise and then memorise patterns of play executed by their opponents. Importantly, this capability is not because the elite players have a bigger memory capacity than the rest of us -...