Do Athletes Excel At Everyday Tasks? A coaching opportunity
Published earlier this month is a fascinating article on some research looking at the perception skills of those people good at athletic compared with other academics. (View the article )
Who can cross a busy road more effectively, a footballer or a psychology student?
In a virtual reality environment standing on a treadmill, students found themselves parachuted into an alleyway between two buildings. Their instructions were simple, to walk out of the alleyway to the busy street in front of them, and within 30 seconds to select a “safe” time to cross the road. The virtual traffic was moving at a speed of between 40 & 55 mph. They were instructed to walk and not run.
The participants each undertook 96 crossings, sometimes without distractions, other times with personal music players, other times having conversations on mobile phones. The students were from a diverse range of sports, stamina, sprint, power, flexibility etc and the academics were from cross departments and schools. All were considered fit and healthy 19-22 years old. n=36
“Over all, there was an 85 percent completion rate,” in which students made it to the other side of the road without incident, said Laura Chaddock, a graduate student at the university and lead author of the study
There were some key findings:
- Students involved in athletics were considerably more successful than academics
- In both groups the distraction of the personal music was insignificant
- In both groups the distraction caused by talking on a mobile phone caused a significant drop in performance
What was the strategy used by athletes that others did not use?
It appears that the athletes crossed the road at the same pace as the academics What they did do was glance along the street a few more times than the academics, each time gathering slightly more data and processing it more speedily and accurately than the other students.
Transfer to business:
Taking the fact that the real difference was strategy, there are some interesting areas for leadership development and change management programmes for the future:
- Look at the data (at least) twice before making a decision – as the students may have physically moved position to take each view (we don’t know this from the study) maybe looking at the data from different perspectives could add value
- Provide learners with the opportunity to review content before looking to apply a transfer of learning
“Conclusions: The results suggest that participation in athletics relates to superior street crossing multitask abilities and that athlete and non-athlete differences in processing speed may underlie this difference. We suggest that cognitive skills trained in sport may transfer to performance on everyday fast-paced multitasking abilities.
(C)2011The American College of Sports Medicine”
Note, this is early research, but does have high face validity. There have been no moves to apply this to business environments, however if we want effective decision making, it does appear that we should hire athletes, or repeat “bite-size” learning for maximum application opportunity