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Want to be a football star? Then learn karate!

Media release

Curtin University researchers have identified a link between being an expert in one sport and executing skills at the same level in other sports, even if they have never played them before.

Dr Simon Rosalie, Lecturer in Anatomy Pathology in Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and lead researcher in the project, said the concept, known as the ‘transfer of learning’, requires previously learned skills to be adapted to suit new conditions.

“Although the transfer of learning is commonplace, it remains poorly understood in relation to perceptual-motor skills, or talents that involve responding physically to a sensory stimulus, such as visual anticipation,” Dr Rosalie said.

The study compared the capabilities of expert, near-expert and novice karate athletes to adapt visual anticipation skills acquired in karate, to anticipate and respond to taekwondo attacks and Australian football hand passing and dodging skills.

“The study demonstrated that expert and near-expert karate athletes were as good as expert and near-expert taekwondo athletes in anticipating taekwondo attacks,” Dr Rosalie said.

“Surprisingly, expert karate athletes were also as good as professional AFL football players at anticipating the directions of hand passes and dodges executed by an AFL level player.

“This is an important finding because skills such as visual anticipation were previously thought to be “domain-specific” or linked to the sport or activity in which they were learned.

“The findings suggest that the more skilled an athlete is the more capable they are of adapting their skills to unfamiliar sports. This adaptability allows experts to continue to execute skills proficiently  when conditions change, even if the changes are quite significant, such as karate athletes anticipating the skills of an Australian footballer.

“Many of our daily activities require us to adapt to changing conditions so the findings have broad implications across many complex perceptual-motor skills. For example, when we drive a car we need to adapt to changes in visibility, road, weather and traffic conditions while coping with unexpected hazards in order to safely reach our destination.”

The report, titled ‘Expertise Facilitates the Transfer of Anticipation Skill Across Domains’, will be published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. The research was undertaken in conjunction with Murdoch University and supported by Karate Victoria.

Dr Rosalie has been invited to the inaugural FIA Sport Conference Week this month to discuss his research.