Of course, the ongoing debate in the sports world is if great perceptual awareness and quick decision making are gifts you’re born with or ones you can develop with practice. The extreme ends of that continuum seem illogical, that a player can excel with no practice or that anyone who practices enough can be a superstar. Instead, the discussion has turned to the gray area in between looking for the right combination and the direction of causation between the two.
At the center of the debate for the last 20 years, Florida State psychology professor K. Anders Ericsson has held to a theory that enough deliberate practice, described as a focused activity meant to improve a specific skill, can make up for or even circumvent the lack of general, innate abilities. His research has shown that about 10,000 hours of practice is the minimum required to rise to an expert level of most knowledge domains, including sports.
Now, in a new study published in Current Directions of Psychological Science, psychologists David Z. Hambrick of Michigan State University and Elizabeth J. Meinz of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville examined this interplay between basic abilities, like working memory capacity, and acquired knowledge learned through practice. “We have been especially interested in the question of whether various forms of domain knowledge moderate the impact of basic cognitive abilities on performance,” the authors wrote.
Working memory is used in complex tasks that require holding information in the mind while also trying to reason or comprehend the environment. Think of Rodgers remembering the pass routes of all of his receivers while processing the movements of eleven defenders around him.
Hambrick and Meinz wanted to find out if the working memory of domain experts, like Rodgers, has as much as an impact on their performance as their years of deliberate practice and learned knowledge of their specialized world. Previous research has shown that a person’s working memory capacity is strongly correlated with abstract reasoning, problem solving, decision making, language comprehension, and complex learning.
After a great Aaron Rodgers performance, you will usually hear at least one of two phrases uttered by post-game football analysts, “he has a great ability to see the field,” or “the game has really slowed down for him.”