How to Gain an Advantage Over Your Opponent
: The Role of Action Sequences on the Effect of Deception in Sport

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


A characteristic of expert performance in fast-ball sports is the ability to execute deceptive actions that mislead opponents in order to gain an advantage. Existing research investigating deceptive skill in fast-ball sports has tended to use video-based designs that have been criticised for limiting understanding on expert (inter)actions. In order to address existing limitations, the current PhD thesis adopted an ecological psychology perspective, which highlights that skilled behaviour is underpinned by an ability to detect information from the environment to guide the successful control of action. Drawing upon this ecological framework, the overarching aim of this thesis was to generate novel insight into how skilled sports performers can simultaneously manipulate both contextual and kinematic information to enhance their ability to successfully deceive an opponent. A new account of deception and disguise in sport was proposed in Chapter 2 to shape the research approach. This account draws on contemporary ecological perspectives (Kimmel & Rogler, 2018; Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014; Withagen, 2004), framing the act of deception as offering information that invites an opponent into an inaccurate response.
In extant literature, qualitative methods have been used to explore expert performers’ perspectives on the information they use to guide their actions. However, equivalent approaches have not yet been used to investigate how expert performers manipulate their actions in order to gain an advantage. Chapter 3 describes a qualitative study where interviews were conducted with international footballer players to investigate the various strategies that experts use during competition to gain an advantage over their opponent. The results revealed novel insight about how performers actively manipulate the sequence of their actions to enhance their ability to deceive an opponent, calling for future research to adopt new approaches to the study of skilled decision-making in sport. The insights from the interviews were used to inform the design of two experiments.
Chapters 4 and 5 present two empirical studies conducted in different sports contexts: the football penalty kick (Chapter 4) and a basketball pass scenario (Chapter 5). Both studies were designed to test the primary hypothesis that deceptive actions that are incongruent with a previous pattern will be more challenging to anticipate and intercept than deceptive actions with no salient preceding pattern. In both studies, there was no clear support that deceptive incongruent actions were more challenging to anticipate and intercept than deceptive actions with no contextual information. Deceptive actions significantly impaired performance in the basketball pass study, but there was no evidence that deception impaired performance in the football penalty kick. These contrasting findings indicate that the manner in which the deceptive action is performed, and the spatiotemporal demands of the sport situation under investigation, influence the effectiveness of deceptive actions for misleading an opponent.
The findings from the qualitative and two experimental studies presented in this thesis advance current understanding about how skilled sports performers gain an advantage through manipulating the information available to an opponent in order to disrupt their ability to successfully anticipate. Insights from interviews with expert football players highlighted that they attempt to manipulate information across multiple timescales to deceive their opponent and gain an advantage. The novel approach to use insights from expert performers in the design of experiments raised the question of whether use of situational probability information in existing research likely inflates the role of contextual information in guiding participants anticipation. The work presented in this thesis supports the value of using an ecological approach for the study of skilled behaviour in sport through developing representative research that can appropriately be generalised to the performance settings of interest.
Date of Award17 Sept 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorLorraine Hope (Supervisor), Vasu Reddy (Supervisor) & Matt Miller-Dicks (Supervisor)

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