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A-level PE - Unit 3: Preparation for Optimum Sports Performance: Reaction Times

Resources to support A-level PE, Unit 3

Reaction Time

Reaction time is the interval time between the presentation of a stimulus and the initiation of the muscular response to that stimulus. A primary factor affecting a response is the number of possible stimuli, each requiring their own response, that are presented.

If there is only one possible response (simple reaction time) it will only take a short time to react. If there are several possible responses (choice reaction time) then it will take longer to determine which response to carry out.

Hick (1952)[2] discovered that the reaction time increases proportionally to the number of possible responses until a point at which the response time remains constant despite the increases in possible responses (Hick's Law).

Improving Reaction Speed

Reaction Time

Reaction time itself is an inherent ability, but overall response time can be improved by practice. Coach and athletes need to analyse the type of skill and the requirements of their sport and decide where overall response gains can be made. Consider the following:

  • Detecting the cue - in a sprint start, focusing on the starter's voice and the sound of the gun and separating this from background crowd noise and negative thoughts
  • Detecting relevant cues - a goalkeeper learning to analyse body language at penalties
  • Decision making - working on set pieces and game situations
  • Change in attention focus - being able to switch quickly from concentration on the opponent to concentration on the field of play in invasion games
  • Controlling anxiety - which slows reaction times by adding conflicting information
  • Creating optimum levels of motivation - 'psyching up'
  • Warm up - to ensure the sense organs and nervous system are ready to transmit information and the muscles to act upon it
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