Purpose: The visual search behaviors and thought processes underpinning anticipation and how these are influenced by intermittent exercise were examined in high- and low-level soccer players.
Methods: High-level (n = 8) and low-level (n = 8) players completed a soccer-specific, intermittent exercise protocol that simulated the demands of a match while responding to filmed sequences of offensive play. HR, blood lactate concentrations, anticipation performance, visual search behaviors, and immediate retrospective verbal reports were assessed.
Results: High-level players demonstrated superior anticipation compared with low-level counterparts, but both groups showed reduced accuracy across the exercise protocol. Mean HR and blood lactate values increased significantly from the beginning to the end of each half of the match (P < 0.05). Visual search data revealed significant group–test session interactions for the number of locations (P < 0.0001), mean fixation durations (P = 0.003), and number of fixations (P < 0.0001). When compared with low-level participants, high-level players used more fixations of shorter duration to more locations at the beginning of each half; whereas at the end of the exercise protocol, they used fewer fixations of longer duration to a lower number of locations. There was a significant group–type of statement–test session interaction (P = 0.001) for the verbal report data. High-level participants generated a great number of evaluation, prediction (in the beginning of the second half), and deep planning statements (during the first and the last test sessions). In contrast, low-level players used more superficial cognition statements than high-level individuals in both halves.
Conclusion: The intermittent exercise induced changes in perceptual-cognitive processes in both groups, although high-level players exhibited superior anticipation across test sessions accompanied by more effective search behaviors and elaborate thought processes.