Attention allocation in sprinters in prestart state

Dr.Biol., Professor B.V. Ermolaev
Moscow Polytechnic University, Moscow 

Keywords: maximum attention concentration, competitive activity, prestart pause, latent period of motor reaction, coordination structure.

Background. A prestart state of professional sprinters is a specific state of maximum attention concentration, when their perceptual and motor abilities become assimilated, as well as the realization of this state through the coordination of the relevant motor action sequence [2]. The efficiency of develop-ment of the basic features of attention (distribution, intensity, focus, and concentration) determines the effectiveness of the motor activity regulation mechanisms and, eventually, the outcome of the exer-cise. Concentrated attention in the acute state of a prestart pause implies the automation of the conditions for the manifestation and resolution of this state. At the same time, continuous improvement of the per-ceptual and motor abilities of sprinters contravenes with this automation, which provides the possibility of empirical research.
Objective of the study was to identify contradictions between two forms of sensitivity: to the sit-uation (readiness for a starting shot) and to own movement patterns (biomechanics of own body, own movements), as well as to search for possible "marks" of conflict in the implementation of executive ac-tions when distributing attention in a prestart state.
Methods and structure of the study. The methodological basis for the practical solution of the set objectives is the provision formulated by B.M. Velichkovsky: "attention is the coordination structure of the processes of operational goal achievement" [1, p. 259].
We analyzed the results of the semifinal 60 m men’s race at the World Athletics Indoor Champi-onships (Birmingham, 2018, Portland, 2016, Sopot, 2014) - 9 runs, 69 results. The sprinter’s startle re-sponse time (latent period of the motor reaction) and demonstrated result served as initial indicators.
It was assumed that the startle response time was an integral indicator of the sprinter’s sensitivity to the starting time. This assumption is related to the following: the "Ready! Steady! …" command fol-lowed by a starting shot is used for starting a race; however, the time interval between the Ready! com-mand and the starting shot is not regulated and can be changed by the starter himself for arbitrary reasons.
Another integral indicator of the focus and concentration of the athlete’s attention (hyper sensitivi-ty) on himself and his movement patterns, achievement of the "perceptual-motor pool" is the time of run-ning the distance (the difference between the demonstrated result and the startle response time) - a motor component of the exercise, which includes the motor reaction time (from the end of the latent period of motor reaction to the moment of getting off the starting blocks).
Running a 60 m indoor track is a quick exercise actually performed in the laboratory conditions: a number of factors are simply excluded here (wind, rain, air temperature fluctuations, etc.), which results in substantial amendments in the comparative analysis. The level of competition and the results demonstrat-ed fully reflect the extremes of the chosen career model.
Results and discussion. Uniformity was the mandatory requirement for the sample. The study aimed to determine the effects of minor changes (startle response time in the analyzed races averaged to 0.15 sec) on major ones (the average distance running time was 6.46 sec). Under these conditions, any arbitrary changes in the sprint race structure (delay at the starting line, distance-running failure, "tactical" speed drop at the finish line) significantly affected the final test results. Under uniformity we mean that each attempt must be performed by an extra-class athlete on the limit of his capacities from start to fin-ish. The analysis of the startle response time and the photo finish of all the races showed that only one result did not correspond to the uniformity conditions for the analyzed attempts. This result, being the worst (both in terms of the startle response time and distance running time), was isolated from the main group - far beyond the boundaries of the specific "ellipse of dispersion" results - a symbolic closed figure formed around the sample. The remaining 68 results were included in the analysis.
The distribution of the temporal parameters of the correlation between the distance running and startle response time is shown in the figure. The difference between the "fastest" and the "slowest" athlete in terms of the startle response time - between the outer extremities of the x-axis of a plot - was 0.076 sec, which was equivalent (at the instant of moving) to a distance of less than 0.30 m, while in terms of the distance running test results, the difference between the outer extremities of y-axis of a plot was 0.318 sec (less than 3.94 m). The data testify to the unequal contributions of the "startle response" and "distance running" in the final result and raise the question of their correlation.

Distribution of the temporal characteristics of the sprinters’ activity in the World Championship semi-finals in Birmingham (2018), Portland (2016), Sopot (2014).

Professional athletes perform on the limit of their capacities, but attention distribution in the pre-start state is not a solved task for them either. The data presented in the figure illustrate the specific dy-namics of their temporal characteristics that can be interpreted as a compromise in the allocation of atten-tion resources.
The distribution is characterized by an emerging trend of inverse correlation of the selected tem-poral parameters with a sufficiently high variability of the data (quadratic polynomial approximation for the determination of the coefficient was 0.12). The coefficient of correlation between the startle response time and distance running time was -0.34 (-0.37, -0.37, and -0.32 for the semi-finals in Birmingham, Port-land, and Sopot, respectively), which corresponds to the moderate correlation on the Chaddock scale. The detected tendency of moderate negative, close to linear, correlation reflects the result of "competition" for attention resources, its focus and concentration, which contradicts modern concepts of the technique of 60 m running [3].
The presented dependence of the efficiency of coping with the distance running task on the crouch at the starting shot task shows both tasks require attention concentration and are characterized by interaction, while each athlete is to search for "a point of perfect capacity" where both tasks can be completed on the limit of his capacities when performed separately. The task realization shifts in time - the motor response to the starting shot acts as the incentive for initiation "distance running". The negative correlation between these tasks is determined by the specific "refractory period", which slows down the accomplishment of the second task. The task interaction was carried out at the planning stage - resource allocation. But the task accommodation during action control, including well-coordinated activities, also requires resources, for example, to give extremes to a moving action or to achieve the highest efficiency of switching from one task to another. While the temporal parameters are only indicators. It is the prestart pause that triggers the process, being the characteristic moment of implementation of the maximum atten-tion concentration when both forms of the process are combined into a single whole.
The athletes’ ability to concentrate on himself and his body mechanics in the prestart pause re-duced by the upcoming exercise; to fence himself off from the opponents, spectators, and importance of the competition; to prevent a false start and not to delay at the starting line suggest that attention distribu-tion is an additional way to control movements and indicates the selection of the optimal motor strategy, control mechanism of action.
Conclusions. The experimental data confirm the view that attention is an attribute of the control processes aimed to overcome automatic tendencies in the execution of a familiar, well-memorized ac-tion. In terms of such an action, it seems to be impossible to pre-configure all the characteristics of atten-tion (control mechanism) to previously unknown parameters of coordinated motor tasks, to form their overall stable "coordination structure". At the same time, each significant sports result is an experimental attempt to find a "perfect" temporary combination of efforts in planning, regulation, and control of motor actions.

References

  1. Velichkovskiy B.M. Cognitive science: Fundamentals of psychology of cognition. in 2 vol. V. 1. M.: Smysl: Akademiya publ., 2006. 448 p.
  2. Zinchenko V.P., Dormashev Yu.B., Romanov V.Ya. Psychology of attention. M.: Trivola publ., 1999. pp. 297-314.
  3. Paradisis G.P. Reaction time and performance in the short sprints. New Studies in Athletics. 2013. Vol. 28, no. 1/2. pp. 95-103.

Corresponding author: ermolaev-boris@mail.ru

Abstract
Objective of the study was to identify contradictions between two forms of sensitivity: to the situation (readiness for a starting shot) and to own movement patterns (biomechanics of own body, own move-ments), as well as to search for possible "marks" of conflict in the implementation of executive actions when distributing attention in a prestart state.
Methods and structure of the study. We analyzed the results of the semifinal race at a distance of 60 m for men at the World Athletics Indoor Championships (Birmingham, 2018, Portland, 2016, Sopot, 2014) - 9 runs, 69 results. The sprinter’s startle response time (latent period of the motor reaction) and demon-strated result served as initial indicators. It was assumed that the startle response time was an integral in-dicator of the sprinter’s sensitivity to the starting time. Another integral indicator of the focus and concentration of the athlete’s attention on himself and his movement patterns, achievement of the "perceptual-motor pool" is the time of running the distance - the difference between the demonstrated result and the startle response time.
Results and conclusions. We detected a moderate negative correlation between two forms of sensitivity in the athletes: to the starting situation (starter signal) and to own biomechanics. The dependence was in-terpreted as the result of attention allocation in the prestart state. There are concepts according to which attention is viewed as an attribute of control processes aimed to overcome a trend to mechanically per-form well-learned actions.
In terms of such an action, it seems to be impossible to pre-configure all the characteristics of attention (control mechanism) to previously unknown parameters of coordinated motor tasks, to form their overall stable "coordination structure".