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Analysis of contextual information sharing during table tennis matches: an empirical study of coordination in sports.

The field of sport and exercise psychology has mainly focused on single-participant research paradigms. However, athletes develop many interpersonal relationships within sports settings, and several researchers have signaled the need to better understand their interactions (e.g., Eccles & Tenenbaum, 2004, 2007; Jackson, Beauchamp, & Knapp, 2007; Jowett & Wylleman, 2006; Poczwardowski, Barott, & Jowett, 2006). Eccles and Tenenbaum (2004, 2007) proposed a social-cognitive framework to study team coordination and communication, borrowing from the fields of social cognition (e.g., Levine, Resnick, & Higgins, 1993) and industrial/organizational psychology (e.g., Brannick, Salas, & Prince, 1997; Salas & Fiore, 2004) to bring new perspectives on team cognition and team expertise. These disciplines extended the unit of analysis from the individual team member to the team as a distinct cognitive unit (or cognitive system) and assumed that the cognitive properties and processes of the team were more than just the sum of the properties and processes of the individuals composing the team (Hinsz, Tindale, & Vollrath, 1997; Hutchins, 1991; Levine et al., 1993). From this perspective, team cognition emerges from the interplay of the individual cognitions of each team member and "team process behaviors" like information sharing (Cooke, Salas, Kiekel, & Bell, 2004). According to Eccles and Tenenbaum (2004, 2007), collective performance requires a high degree of coordination. Basing this claim on the results of several studies in the workplace (e.g., Cannon-Bowers, Salas, & Converse, 1993; Stout, Cannon-Bowers, Salas, & Milanovich, 1999), they concluded that team coordination arises essentially from a shared knowledge state (task work or team work knowledge held in common by the members of the same sports team).

The empirical work on team cognition has gradually shown the interest of distinguishing two forms of shared knowledge (Cooke, Gorman, & Winner, 2007): (a) background knowledge that is static and long-lived in nature, and (b) the more dynamic and fleeting understanding of a situation that a team member has at any one point in time (Cooke et al., 2004). Cooke et al. (2004) noted that most studies of team knowledge have focused primarily on long-term knowledge (e.g., Cannon-Bowers et al., 1993; Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000) at the expense of the more dynamic knowledge associated with situation awareness (Salas, Prince, Baker, & Shrestha, 1995; Stout, Cannon-Bowers, & Salas, 1996). Moreover, some recent theoretical perspectives have emphasized the limits of approaches that focus on "what is shared" (knowledge, mental models, or fleeting understanding of the situation) instead of the dynamic sharing processes that deal with "how it is shared" (e.g., Cooke & Gorman, 2006; Cooke et al., 2007). Ward and Eccles (2006), in particular, insisted on the importance of clearly differentiating two key components: (a) the elements that are shared among team members, and (b) the processes of this sharing (i.e., how team members communicate their experience and how they share their knowledge). In the view of several authors, future research should address the dynamic interplay among team members, rather than the static structure of each team member's knowledge (e.g., Cooke et al., 2007).

Recent studies in work settings (e.g., air traffic control, urban transport control, nuclear power plants) have integrated notions of situation awareness and mutual awareness (1) to describe the dynamics of interactions between individuals (e.g., Heath, Sanchez-Svensson, Hindmarsh, Luff, & Vom Lehn, 2002; Rognin, Salembier, & Zouinar, 2000; Schmidt, 2002). From this perspective, Salembier and Zouinar (2000) developed a conceptual and methodological framework for describing and assessing mutual awareness in complex work settings. They introduced the notion of "shared context" to empirical studies on contextual information sharing. This notion

was developed with reference to Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory and, more specifically, to their concept of the "mutual cognitive environment" (Sperber & Wilson, 1986). The main idea is that what is common to two individuals at any given moment is their environment--and in this context, their cognitive environment--rather than shared knowledge. The cognitive environment is the set of facts that are manifest to an individual; in other words, all the facts that he or she can perceive or infer. Moreover, the same facts can be manifest in the cognitive environments of two individuals, which means that the two environments tally and their intersection forms an environment that the two individuals share (Salembier & Zouinar, 2000). A mutual cognitive environment is a shared cognitive environment in which the people who share are also manifest. In a mutual cognitive environment, for every manifest fact, the fact that it is manifest to the people who share this environment is itself manifest (Sperber & Wilson, 1986). Thus, Sperber and Wilson (1986) substituted the notion of mutual knowledge for a "weaker" but empirically more suitable notion: "mutual manifestness." Shared context (Salembier & Zouinar, 2000) can be considered as a subset of the mutual cognitive environment. A shared context has been defined as a set of information items or contextual events that is mutually manifest to individuals at a given time and in a given situation. This shared context is in step with their perceptual and cognitive capacities, any prescribed tasks, and the current activity. This notion of shared context takes into account the uncertainty related to sharing contextual information, as well as actors' inference capacities on the joint access to the environment resources (Salembier & Zouinar, 2000). To understand the processes of coordination among several individuals, the information they construct and share during their interaction has to be taken into account.

Our study was based on the notion of shared context (Salembier & Zouinar, 2000) and sought to analyze the nature and content of the contextual information shared by athletes during competition, as well as the processes of this contextual information sharing. In their study of air traffic controllers, Salembier and Zouinar (2000) chose an "extrinsic reconstruction" of shared context. The researchers identified information items or contextual events mutually manifest to individuals on the basis of three types of data gathered from videotape recordings: observable behaviors (e.g., expressions, postures, gestures), communications between the controllers, and data regarding space and equipment (e.g., available support equipment, position of artifacts, informational content of artifacts). We chose an "intrinsic reconstruction:" we identified the information items or contextual events mutually manifest to individuals on the basis of videotape recordings and interviews with the study participants. Our study was conducted within the framework of the course-of-action, originally developed in the French language for research in ergonomics (Theureau, 2002, 2003). This framework includes a methodology that makes use of video recordings in natural settings and interview techniques of stimulated recall. Numerous recent empirical studies in the field of sports expertise have demonstrated its effectiveness (e.g., d'Arripe-Longueville, Saury, Fournier, & Durand, 2001; Hauw, Berthelot, & Durand, 2003; Seve, Poizat, Saury, & Durand, 2006; Seve, Ria, Poizat, Saury, & Durand, 2007) and a major advantage is that it allows researchers to understand the meaning that individuals construct during the course of activity. The course of action is that part of activity that is meaningful for the actor and can be more precisely defined as follows: "the activity of a given actor engaged in a given physical and social environment, where the activity is meaningful for that actor; that is, he [sic] can show it, tell it, and comment upon it to an observer-listener at any instant during its unfolding" (Theureau & Jeffroy, 1994, p. 19). It is a chain of signs that are meaningful units of activity emerging from the interaction between an actor and a context. By identifying these signs, the actor's course of action can be reconstructed to reveal the process through which meaning was constructed during the action. The comparison of two actors' courses of action reveals the contextual information that was shared by taking into account the meaning they respectively constructed during the activity.

In previous research, we used the framework of course-of-action theory to analyze the activity of expert table tennis players during matches. The results showed that (a) they validate, invalidate, or construct new knowledge during matches in response to the uncertainty of the dynamic situations they encounter (Seve, Saury, Ria, & Durand, 2003; Seve, Saury, Theureau, & Durand, 2002), (b) their interpretations are embedded in a dynamic of constructing meaning (Seve, Saury, Leblanc, & Durand, 2005), and (c) they attempt to influence opponents' judgments (Poizat, Seve, & Rossard, 2006). From these analyses, we proposed a grounded theory of elite table tennis players' activity during matches (Seve et al., 2006). This model of activity takes into account the individual table tennis player's activity. The purpose of the present exploratory study was to characterize table tennis players' interactions during matches by analyzing the shared context between two players and the processes regulating this shared context. In table tennis, as in other sports, two players can be engaged in competitive interaction (two opponents in a singles match) or cooperative interaction (two partners in a doubles match). Two athletes are competing if they strive to achieve goals that mutually interfere and if they strive to control the interference in order to facilitate only their own activities and force the opponent into making errors. Two athletes are cooperating if they both strive to achieve goals that don't interfere with the goals of the other and if they try to manage the interference to facilitate their own activities and the activities of the other one (e.g., Castellfranchi, 1998; Hoc, 2001; Vanderhaegen, Chalme, Anceaux, & Millot, 2006). The analysis of competitive and cooperative interactions is a key to gaining insight into how athletes share information during athletic interactions. We thus analyzed contextual information sharing between two opponents during a table tennis singles match and two partners during a table tennis doubles match. The analysis was focused on two key components of contextual information sharing: (a) the nature and content of the information that was shared between the players and (b) the processes regulating the information sharing. To characterize the information that was shared between the players and to determine how they produced and sustained this information sharing, we reconstructed and compared their courses of action during these two types of matches. Previous studies demonstrated that players take multiple situational factors into account during matches in order to act and these factors vary with the moment in the match (Seve et al., 2005). Based on these findings, we expected to find great diversity in the nature and content of the information that was shared. Furthermore, given the dynamic and uncertain character of unfolding matches (Seve et al., 2002, 2003), we expected that the information that was shared would concern the here and now of the situation more than stabilized knowledge. Lastly, we expected a difference in the processes regulating information sharing depending on whether the sharing was in pursuit of competitive goals (opponents in singles matches) or cooperative goals (partners in doubles matches).

Method

Participants

Four national table tennis players agreed to participate in the study. We requested their consent when the competition was over. Although the players did not ask to remain anonymous, they were given pseudonyms to guarantee some degree of confidentiality: Chris, Greg, Jules, and Paul. Aged between 23 and 35 years at the time of the study (M = 27.25, SD = 5.44), the participants had been playing table tennis for 13 to 25 years (M = 16.75, SD = 5.56). Their French ranking ranged from 56th to 84th (M = 74.25, SD = 12.61).

Procedure

The players' activity was studied in two matches. We studied the activity of two partners in a doubles match (cooperative interaction) and two opponents during a singles match (competitive interaction). These matches took place during two national competitions. The doubles match was held in October 2002 during the National Team Championship. Jules and Paul were partners and the match lasted 12 minutes. Their opponents were ranked 19th and 78th in France. Jules and Paul won with a score of 3-0. Jules and Paul had been regular partners in doubles matches for the past three years. The singles match was held in February 2002 during the National Individual Championship. It pitted Chris against Greg and lasted 37 minutes. Greg won with a score of 4-2. Greg and Chris had already played against each other three times since the beginning of the season.

Data collection

The data collection in this investigation followed the procedure defined for course-of-action analysis (e.g., Seve et al., 2003; Theureau, 2003). Two types of data were gathered: (a) continuous video recordings of the players' behaviors during matches and (b) verbalizations during post-match interviews.

The camera was positioned above and behind the table and was set for a wide-angle, fixed, overhead view that framed the table and the movement of two or four players, the scoreboard, and the umpire.

The verbalization data were gathered from individual self-confrontation interviews with each of the players. This interview method consists of confronting a person with his or her activity in a particular situation. The present interviews were conducted as soon as possible after the matches, depending on the players' availability (from 24 to 48 hr post-match). The interviews lasted 50 minutes for Chris (singles), 56 minutes for Greg (singles), 21 minutes for Jules (doubles), and 27 minutes for Paul (doubles). To avoid potential biases, the coach had agreed not to analyze the match with the players until the interviews were over. During the interview, the player viewed the videotape of the match together with one of the authors. The player was asked to describe and comment on his activity during the match (i.e., to describe what he was doing, feeling, thinking, and perceiving during the match). The researcher's prompts concerned actions (what are you doing?), sensations (what sensations are you experiencing?), perceptions (what are you perceiving?), attention (what has your attention?), preoccupations (what are you trying to do?), emotions (what emotions are you experiencing?), and thoughts and interpretations (what are you thinking about?). To limit retrospective rationalizations about the activities being viewed on the video recording, the researcher regularly stopped the video before a point and asked the participant to describe and comment on his upcoming activity. The participant then viewed the point in play and completed his descriptions. The interviews were recorded in their entirety using a camera and a tape recorder. All the interviews were conducted by the same researcher, who had been a nationally ranked table tennis player. He had already conducted self-confrontation interviews of this type in previous studies and was experienced in interviewing techniques.

Data processing

Generating match logs

This step consisted of generating a summary table or log containing the data collected for each match. It involved presenting the data by mapping two levels of data to each other. The first level pertained to the data recorded during the match: it contained the descriptions of the player's moves and communications. The second level pertained to the data recorded during post-match interviews: it contained the verbatim transcription of the prompted verbalizations (see Table 1).

Reconstructing the course of action of each player

This step consisted of identifying and documenting the six components of the hexadic signs that constitute the course of action. When asked to describe his or her activity, the actor spontaneously breaks down a continuous stream of activity into discrete units that have personal meaning. These discrete units are assumed to be the expression of a sign, termed hexadic, as it consists of six components: the unit of course of action (U), the representamen (R), the involvement in the situation (E), the potential actuality (A), the referential (S), and the interpretant (I) (Theureau, 2003). For each course of action, the six components of the hexadic signs were documented step-by-step on the basis of (a) the video recording, (b) the verbalization transcript, and (c) specific questioning.

The unit of course of action (U) is the fraction of pre-reflexive activity that can be shown, told, and commented on by the actor. The unit may be a symbolic construct, physical action, communicative exchanges, interpretation, or emotion. We identified it by asking the following questions about the collected and transcribed data: What is the player doing? What is the player thinking? What is the player feeling? In the example, after the first point in the match (Tables 1 and 2, Paul Sign 3), Paul thought that he had made an efficient return against the opponent's serve.

The representamen (R) refers to the assumption that activity constitutes an adaptation to an environment whose meaningful elements are resources that the actor can use to act. At a given instant, the representamen is comprised of those elements of the situation that are significant to the actor. It consists of the actor's subjective appropriation of an event. It is a judgment that may be perceptive ("I perceive this"), mnemonic ("I remember this"), or proprioceptive ("I am doing this"). It underlines the selective character of perceptive and mnemonic activities and their role in the dynamics of meaning construction for the actor. We identified it by asking the following questions about the collected and transcribed data: What is the significant element in the situation for the player? What element of the situation is the player considering? What element is remembered, perceived, or interpreted by the player? In the example (Paul Sign 3), the element taken into account by Paul after the first point concerned the backspin return that he had just made against his opponent's serve.

The involvement in the situation (E) refers to the assumption that purpose underlies activity, stemming from the dynamics of past interactions. It corresponds to the player's preoccupations at a given moment. These preoccupations arise from past courses of action. We identified the involvement in the situation by asking the following question about the collected and transcribed data: What are the significant concerns of the player in relation to the element taken into account in the situation? In the example (Paul Sign 3), Paul tried to disturb the opponents' attack.

The potential actuality (A) refers to the assumption that an expected outcome is delimited by the involvement from among a set of expectations built over the course of past interactions. It corresponds to the elements that are expected by the actor in his or her dynamic situation at a given moment, taking into account the involvement. We identified it by asking the following questions about the collected and transcribed data: What are the realistic expectations of the player arising from these concerns and from the element taken into account in the situation? What result is the player waiting for? In the example (Paul Sign 3), Paul had expectations about highly ranked opponents. Notably, he expected powerful attacks from his opponents.

The referential (S) refers to the assumption that the actor constructs invariants over the course of interactions with the environment. These invariants are inherited from past experiences. The referential thus corresponds to the "types" (Rosch, 1978) and relationships between "types" belonging to the culture of the actor that he or she can mobilize at a given moment, taking into account the involvement and the potential actuality. A "type" is an item of knowledge mobilized in and for the present action (Theureau, 2003). We identified it by asking the following question about the collected and transcribed data: What prior knowledge is being mobilized by the player? In the example (Paul Sign 3), Paul mobilized a type relative to his partner: "Jules attacks better than I do."

The interpretant (I) refers to the assumption that a constant transformation of the actor's experience occurs during interactions with the environment. It corresponds to the validation, extension, or construction of the "types" and relationships between "types" at a given moment. The interpretant expresses the idea that human activity is always accompanied by situated learning. We identified it by asking the following question about the collected and transcribed data: What knowledge is being constructed, validated, or invalidated? In the example (Paul Sign 3), Paul validated a type concerning his role as a team member: "My role is basically to set up Jules' attacks."

During the singles match, a total of 455 hexadic signs were identified for Chris and 467 signs for Greg. During the doubles match, a total of 216 hexadic signs were identified for Jules and 207 signs for Paul.

Identifying contextual information that was shared between the players

This step consisted of identifying which contextual information was shared between the players by reconstructing the collective interaction of the two players' courses of action. First, the two partners' or opponents' courses of action were synchronized on the basis of the video recordings and verbalization transcripts. Second, the articulation between the two courses of action was analyzed at a local level to determine whether information was shared. The hexadic sign components were compared at the same point in time in order to identify the nature and content of the information that was shared (see Table 2). Items of contextual information were considered to be shared when they presented a similar content. The items that could be shared were expectations (A), mobilized "types" (S), meaningful elements of the situation (R), constructed interpretations (U), and new "types" constructed during the course of the interaction (I) (2) (see Table 2). The analysis of the content of the information that was shared between the players also permitted us to identify the forms of contextual information sharing during the matches. The analysis revealed three typical forms: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and no sharing.

Identifying processes regulating contextual information sharing

The situations in which the typical forms of contextual information sharing occurred were analyzed and compared to identify regularities in the table tennis players' activity in these situations. A thorough analysis was conducted to determine the processes that regulate contextual information sharing in two types of interaction: cooperative and competitive.

Trustworthiness of the data and analysis

Several measures were taken to enhance the credibility of the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). First, the transcripts were given back to the participants so that they could ensure the authenticity of their commentary and make any necessary changes to the text. Minor editorial comments were made regarding confrontational responses. Second, the verbalization data were processed using a generic model of description which limits the interpretation of researchers. Third, the data were coded independently by two trained investigators who reached consensus on the number of hexadic signs and the labeling of the six components of each sign. These two researchers had already coded protocols of this type in earlier studies, were familiar with course-of-action theory, and had previous experience in table tennis. The reliability of the coding procedure was assessed using Bellack's agreement rate (Van Someren, Barnard, & Sandleberg, 1994). The initial agreement rate was 85% for the identification of hexadic signs and 90% for the identification of contextual information sharing. Any initial disagreements were resolved by discussion between the researchers until a consensus was reached. This method was justified by the thoroughness of our mode of data analysis. Reconstructing a course of action differs from the procedure of coding data. It requires a plausible interpretation of a dynamic construction of activity. Plausibility was ensured by the simultaneous and parallel reconstructions of the two researchers, who were willing to discuss and debate their interpretations until a consensus was reached.

Results

The results are presented in four stages: (a) the nature and content of contextual information that was shared between the table tennis players during matches, (b) the forms of contextual information sharing and their occurrences during matches, (c) the processes regulating contextual information sharing, and (d) the forms of contextual information sharing and types of interaction. The first two stages concern the information that was shared between the players and the last two, the processes of information sharing.

Nature and content of contextual information that was shared between the table tennis players during matches

The hexadic signs of the two players were analyzed simultaneously and moment-by moment of their respective courses of action. This allowed us to characterize the nature and content of the contextual information that was shared during the singles and doubles matches.

First, the analysis revealed great diversity in the nature of the contextual information that was shared between the players (see Table 3 and Table 4). In both singles and doubles matches, they shared information regarding expectations (A), mobilized "types" (S), meaningful elements of the situation (R), constructed interpretations (U), and new types constructed during the course of the interaction (I). The distribution of the nature of the information that was shared was the same in the two types of interaction.

The information most frequently shared by the players in both singles and doubles matches concerned the meaningful elements of the situation (36% of the total number of information items shared in the singles match and 34% in the doubles match) and constructed interpretations (29% of the total number of information items shared in the singles match and 28% in the doubles match). These two components (R and U) of the sign concerned the here and now of the situation. The information that was least shared in both singles and doubles matches concerned the new types constructed during the interaction (5% of the total number of information items shared in the singles match and 4% in the doubles match). Knowledge constructed in the past (i.e., mobilized "types") constituted 21% of the total number of information items shared during the singles match and 18% during the doubles match.

Second, the analysis revealed diversity in the content of the contextual information that was shared between the players. During the singles match, the opponents shared information about their respective states of self-confidence and their respective emotional experiences (30%), their respective preferred strokes (26%), their respective preferred game configurations (21%), the score (8%), the events encountered during the match (e.g., ''lucky shots") (6%), their respective difficulties (5%), and their respective perceptions of the adversarial relationship (4%). Thus, in the singles match, 86% of the content of contextual information that was shared referred to the players themselves (i.e., state of self-confidence and emotional experience, preferred strokes, preferred game configurations, their difficulties, and their perception of the adversarial relationship) and 14% to the game situation (i.e., score and events encountered during matches). During the doubles match, the partners shared information about their respective effectiveness (e.g., whether they were making unaccustomed mistakes) (30%), their respective strengths and weaknesses (e.g., difficulty or ease in returning certain ball trajectories) (16%), their respective preferred game configurations (14%), the score (10%), their respective perceptions of the "adversarial team relationship" (11%), their complementarity (9%), their respective states of self-confidence and their respective emotional experiences (5%), and the opponents' actions (5%). Thus, in the doubles match, 85% of the content of contextual information that was shared referred to the partners themselves (i.e., effectiveness, strengths and weaknesses, preferred game configurations, perceptions of the "adversarial team relationship," complementarity, states of self-confidence and emotional experiences), 10% to the game situation (i.e., score), and 5% to the opponents (i.e., opponents' actions). It should be noted that in the singles match, the content of information that was shared concerned principally the opponents themselves, and in the doubles match it concerned principally the partners themselves. During the doubles match, the partners shared little information about their opponents.

Forms of contextual information sharing and their occurrence during matches

The analysis pointed out three typical forms of contextual information sharing: symmetrical, asymmetrical, and no sharing. In symmetrical sharing, the mutually manifest information referred either to an element of the situation or to the activities of both players (i.e., each player had access to information about the other). In asymmetrical sharing, the mutually manifest information referred to the activity of only one player and they made identical inferences about it. In no sharing, no information was mutually manifest: the players made no common inferences.

The typical forms of contextual information sharing were analyzed to determine their rate of occurrence during both types of interaction, and this analysis yielded three main findings. First, the three typical forms of sharing appeared in competitive and cooperative interaction. Second, no information sharing was the most frequent form in competitive and cooperative interaction (no information sharing accounted for 46% of the hexadic sign articulations in the singles match and for 41% of the hexadic sign articulations in the doubles match). Third, the occurrence rate differed in the two types of interaction: in the singles match, sharing was mainly asymmetrical (information sharing between opponents was asymmetrical for 35% of the hexadic sign articulations and symmetrical for 19%) and in the doubles match, sharing was mainly symmetrical (information sharing between partners was symmetrical for 37% of the hexadic sign articulations and asymmetrical for 22%).

Processes regulating contextual information sharing

The analysis and comparison of the players' activity in situations with different forms of contextual information sharing revealed five processes that regulated sharing: inquiry, monitoring, displaying certain aspects of one's activity, masking, and focusing.

Inquiry was the process of exploring to find the relevant elements in the opponent's game: Here I was trying to figure out how to return his serve. At this point, I don't have a good grasp of his service (Greg, Singles, Set 1, 6-7).

Monitoring was the process of tracking the changes in the opponent's or partner's game: Here I'm realizing that Paul is gaining confidence in his game (Jules, Doubles, Set 2, 8-5).

Displaying was the process of making certain elements about the game evident to the opponent or partner: Here's a great counterattack from Paul. I nod my head to let him know that he played that well so that he feels it was an important point (Jules, Doubles, Set 2, 10-9).

Masking was the process of concealing elements regarding one's own activity from the opponent or partner: Here I'm scared but I try not to show it. I move away from the table and calmly wipe off without looking at him, but I have no confidence at this point (Greg, Singles, Set 5, 8-6).

Focusing was the process of concentrating on one's own activity to avoid paying attention to the opponent or partner: At this moment here, he [the opponent] begins to speak. So I say to myself: he's doing it on purpose, and then I tell myself that above all I had better not listen. From then on, I focus only on my game (Greg, Singles, Set 2, 7-7). You can see here that for the next point I'm looking somewhere else and not paying attention to him (Greg, Singles, Set 2, 8-7).

Four of these processes (monitoring, displaying, masking, and focusing) were common to both competitive and cooperative interactions. Inquiry was specific to competitive interaction. The results indicated that the same forms of sharing were not regulated by the same processes in competitive and cooperative interactions.

In the singles match, symmetrical information sharing, in which the two players had similar information on the opponent or on elements of the situation, was regulated by inquiry and/or monitoring for both players. In the doubles match, this form of sharing was regulated by the process of displaying, during which the player made certain intentions evident to his partner.

In the singles match, asymmetrical sharing was regulated by (a) the process of monitoring and/or (b) the process of displaying. In the first case, the stronger player monitored the weaker player's activity while sometimes masking his own activity (i.e., shared information was about the "dominated" player when the stronger player discovered his weaknesses). In the second case, the stronger player displayed certain activity to his opponent (i.e., shared information through such behavior as loud commentary or ostentatious encouragement, thereby making his own effectiveness evident to the other player). In the doubles match, asymmetrical sharing was regulated by monitoring: the more effective player monitored his partner and at times concealed his interpretations from him.

In both singles and doubles matches, the case of no information sharing was regulated by (a) masking (i.e., the players masked either their weaknesses and intentions from their opponent to prevent him from gaining the advantage or their interpretations from their partner to prevent him from losing confidence) and/or (b) focusing (i.e., the two players were focused on their own game).

Forms of contextual information sharing and types of interaction

These three types of contextual information sharing were not experienced in the same way in the singles and doubles matches. This difference in perception essentially concerned the situations of asymmetrical sharing.

The players saw situations of asymmetrical sharing in the singles match as advantageous to one player's performance and disadvantageous to the other's. They considered that constructing valid interpretations about the opponent's game or constructing wrong interpretations about their own game created an advantage (or a disadvantage) for one of them. To illustrate, in the beginning of Set 5, Chris was losing three sets to one and was involved in a process of inquiry to identify the most effective game configurations. Greg was monitoring the changes in the effectiveness of his opponent's game. At a score of 2-2, the two players shared contextual information about Greg's difficulty in returning balls "close to the body." (3) At a score of 4-3, Chris again hit the ball "close to the body" and confirmed Greg's problem. Another situation of shared information about Greg then arose. Chris thus concluded that this constructed knowledge was valid and would allow him to develop an effective game strategy. Greg, as well, thought that this knowledge constructed by Chris would give him (Chris) an advantage in the rest of the match.

Here it's good, it confirms that he's bothered when I play close to the body. He's more bothered when I play like that than when I play to the angles. So I tell myself that there is maybe something to do with this. [Chris, Singles, Set 4, 4-3]

Here I realize that he's seen how bothered I am when he plays that way. In fact, I even tap myself on the stomach there. It's not good for the rest of the match; it's given him the advantage. [Greg, Singles, Set 4, 4-3]

The situations of asymmetrical sharing were seen as either advantageous or disadvantageous to performance in the doubles match. In some cases, information sharing was seen an aid to the team and the players acted to construct a situation of symmetrical sharing. To illustrate, in Set 3, the two partners were looking for maximal effectiveness to win the match with three winning sets. At a score of 6-6, Paul served and the opponent attacked with force on the return. In this situation, contextual information about the ineffectiveness of Paul's serve was shared. Jules spoke to Paul to draw his attention about his serve. Paul thought this was beneficial:

Jules sees that I can't always manage to serve short with backspin. He tells me it would be better to serve short with no-spin, but to be sure it's short. He's right; what's important is to make sure that the opponents can't attack my serve. [Paul, Doubles, Set 3, 6-6]

In other cases, the players saw sharing of contextual information as a disturbance to the team and acted to construct a situation of asymmetrical sharing. To illustrate, at the end of Set 2, the two partners were looking for maximal effectiveness because every lost point compromised winning the set. At a score of 9-7, Paul served, the opponent attacked quite capably, and Jules was unable to return the attack. In this situation, contextual information was shared about Paul's emotional state and his ineffective serves. Jules tried to avoid explicit information to prevent Paul from losing confidence:

I can see that Paul is having trouble with short serves. I miss a counter-attack but in fact it's Paul's serve that failed because it was long and the opponents were able to attack. But I try to let nothing show so I don't destabilize Paul. [Jules, Double, Set 2, 9-8]

Here my serve is a failure. It's way too long and my opponent was able to make a powerful attack. It's a problem when you miss a serve like that at the end of a set. [Paul, Doubles, Set 2, 9-8]

Discussion

The results of this exploratory study are discussed in three stages: (a) the changes in information that is shared during sports interactions, (b) the role of situation awareness during sports interactions, and (c) the links between information sharing and collective effectiveness during sports interactions.

The changes in information that is shared during sports interactions

Sports studies usually refer to the notion of shared knowledge to account for the shared understanding needed for coordination. This knowledge seems indispensible for an efficient collective performance and is acquired over the course of years of training and competition (e.g., Bouthier & Savoyant, 1984; Eccles & Tenenbaum, 2004, 2007; Reimer, Park, & Hinsz, 2006). However, in complex and indeterminate situations like most sports interactions, the information that is shared cannot be reduced to a more or less stabilized structure of knowledge. Although our results must be generalized cautiously because of the small number of matches studied and the disproportion between the lengths of the singles and doubles matches, they underline the diverse nature of the information that is shared between athletes during competitive and cooperative table tennis situations, as well as its instability. Not only did the players share knowledge acquired in the past that was likely to be mobilized in the present, but they also shared perceptions of the manifest events of the present situation, interpretations or judgments about it, constructions of new knowledge about it, and expectations for the future situation. A counterintuitive result of our study, which will need to be confirmed in other studies, was that the players, whether partners or opponents, shared more information concerned with the here and now (i.e., meaningful elements of the situation and constructed interpretations) than knowledge previously acquired (i.e., mobilized "types"). The content of this information essentially concerned the opponents themselves during competitive interactions and the partners themselves during cooperative matches. Given that a player's way of playing differs across and during matches (Seve et al., 2005), it is likely that the players relied more on information about the actual situation to judge their opponent or partner and adjust their own actions than on previously acquired knowledge.

The finding that most of the information that was shared concerned the here and now underlines the dynamic character of shared understanding: the shared context was continuously modified by changes in the situation caused by the two protagonists' actions. At a collective level, these results reflect the phenomena observed in earlier works at the individual level regarding the activity of expert table tennis players, particularly concerning the dynamics of knowledge construction and interpretation in matches in situ (e.g., Seve et al., 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006). In fact, the dynamism and indetermination of contextual information sharing can be interpreted as inherent to the collective articulation of individual activities that are themselves characterized by dynamism and indetermination (Theureau, 2003). The players accentuated these dynamic and indeterminate aspects of the courses of their interactions through their attempts to influence the nature and content of the information that was shared. They relied on several processes (inquiry, monitoring, displaying, masking, and focusing) to modify the information likely to be shared. Their goal was to: (a) gain access to the opponent's or partner's intelligibility, (b) anticipate the opponent's or partner's expectations, (c) influence the partner's or opponent's interpretations, (d) mask their own interpretations, doubts and/or weaknesses, or (e) display selected aspects of their activity to the other.

Our study thus points out the complexity of contextual information sharing during competitive and cooperative sports interactions. This complexity resides both in the nature and content of the information that is shared among the athletes and in the processes implemented to influence this sharing. The information that was shared between the table tennis players, whether opponents or partners, was not limited to pre-established knowledge and concerned several aspects of the context. Moreover, the information was constructed by and during the interactions: the players deployed several strategies to influence the judgments of the opponent or partner. Also, the information that was shared changed constantly during the interactions as a function of the players' respective actions: the shared context was not pre-determined but was under construction during the unfolding of action (Salembier & Zouinar, 2000). This confirms the need to develop empirical research that considers team cognition as emergent, with a focus on the dynamic interplay among team members rather than on the static structure of team members' knowledge (Cooke et al., 2007; Ward & Eccles, 2006).

Role of situation awareness during sports interactions

Situation awareness, a notion first applied to aeronautics research, is an important factor of performance in complex environments (e.g., Durso & Gronlund, 1999; Endsley, 1995; Sarter & Woods, 1991). According to James and Patrick (2004), this notion "has received scant explicit recognition within the Sports Psychology literature, which is surprising given the task requirements of many sports" (p. 297). Most sports situations can be characterized as dynamic and uncertain. Athletes thus perform in complex environments, wherein they are constantly interpreting unexpected events so that they can make optimal adjustments (e.g., Hauw et al., 2003; Seve et al., 2005). Our results underlined the importance of a dynamic or fleeting understanding of the situation during table tennis interactions, which evokes the notion of situation awareness, and suggested that constructs such as the situation model play a predominant role in the understanding of sports team performance (Ward & Eccles, 2006). Endsley (1995) defined situation awareness, at the individual level, as the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status into the near future. The nature of the contextual information shared by the players recalls Endsley's description (1995): (a) perception of raw information about the environment, (b) interpretation of the information, and (c) projection into the future. Over the course of their interactions, the players shared information about the meaningful elements in the situation, their mobilized knowledge and newly constructed knowledge, their constructed interpretations, and their expectations. Our results allowed us to enrich the definition proposed by Endsley (1995): they indicated that the construction of situation awareness also depends on the history of past interactions. The interpretations and expectations at time t contributed to the determination of the elements that would be perceived at time t+l. Thus, the means by which the athletes achieved awareness of their situation was inextricably embedded in the activities in which they were engaged (Heath et al., 2002).

Over the past few years, situation awareness has emerged as a major concept in research dedicated to understanding coordination among members of the same team (e.g., Cooke et al., 2007; Cooke, Stout, & Salas, 2001; Salas & Fiore, 2004; Salas et al., 1995; Stout et al., 1996). The notion of team situation awareness has been shown to be a factor of the mutual understanding among team members in collective situations (Cooke et al., 2001, 2007; Stout et al., 1996). A fundamental assumption regarding team situation awareness is that it is more than the sum of each individual team member's situation awareness (Salas et al., 1995). According to Salas et al. (1995), specific processes contribute to the emergence of team situation awareness such that it cannot be reduced to the sum of each individual's awareness. Our study enabled us to specify some of these processes regarding information sharing: inquiry, monitoring, displaying, masking, and focusing. Our results confirmed that team situation awareness is far more complex than the simple sum of all individual levels of awareness (Schwartz, 1990). We suggest that the identification of the inter-individual processes underlying changes in shared context during sports interactions provides powerful insight into the complexity of constructing team situation awareness during collective activity. Neither individual nor team situation awareness is pre-established: both are constructed in the course of interaction. Team situation awareness may take different forms and, to be understood, the specific activities of each protagonist exerting an influence on the sharing of contextual information must be taken into account. Team situation awareness depends on the ability of the team member to build activities that enable other members to retrieve certain features or implications of these actions (Heath et al., 2002).

Information sharing and collective effectiveness in sports interactions

Individual possession of a substantial amount of commonly held information is often considered as essential to facilitate coordination between members of a collective and to improve their effectiveness, especially in cooperative interactions (e.g., Rognin et al., 2000; Salembier & Zouinar, 2000). Although our results must be generalized cautiously, they raise interesting questions about the assumption that all information should be systematically shared to ensure effective collective functioning. The players, whether opponents or partners, did not always share information during matches: no information sharing accounted for 46% of the hexadic sign articulations in the competitive interaction and 41% in the cooperative one. Complementary studies are needed to determine whether our results are specific to the level of interdependence that characterizes table tennis and the opportunities for coordination that this sport offers (Cannon-Bowers & Bowers, 2006). However, it seems that discrete points of connection (Gatewood, 1985) were enough to ensure that the players (opponents or partners) adjusted to one another and acted in coordinated fashion. Thus, although the construction of collective activity presupposes a certain degree of shared context to ensure mutual understanding among all members, coordination does not depend on the systematic sharing of the information.

Depending on the situation, the players exhibited symmetric, asymmetric, or no sharing. Our results underlined the importance of asymmetric sharing during table tennis matches and more generally in sports interactions. During the singles match (competitive interaction), the players essentially tried to construct asymmetric sharing. This was accomplished by a combination of processes of exploration (e.g., monitoring) and influencing (i.e., masking and displaying). Exploration and influence were used to build a model of the opponent and gain access to his information, as well as to prevent him from doing the same (Seve et al., 2006). The attempt to gain access to the opponent's perceptions and understanding of the situation while masking one's own seems common to several competitive sports interactions. Certainly, this provides an advantage in predicting the opponent's actions and preparing for them, while hiding one's own intentions in order to maintain the element of surprise (e.g., Poizat et al., 2006; Seve et al., 2006). In the doubles match (cooperative sports interaction), the players sought to construct symmetric or asymmetric sharing, depending on the moment. At some points in the match, the players assumed that joint access to their respective interpretations would improve the effectiveness of coordination. They thus acted to facilitate symmetric sharing. To communicate their intentions and their upcoming actions to their partner and give him time to prepare, they employed certain behaviors (verbal or nonverbal). At other moments, they acted to further asymmetric sharing. In these cases, the aim was to mask personal interpretations that might further lower the partner's self-confidence. Thus, the attempt to impose an asymmetric shared context was not made to gain an advantage, as in the competitive interaction, but to help a partner judged to be of low effectiveness.

In summary, our study demonstrated that contextual information sharing alone does not explain the complexity of the processes involved in team coordination and the construction of team activity. Even in cooperative interactions, athletes do not always try to maximize information sharing. These results confirm the observation of other studies that not all knowledge processed by a team member needs to be shared with the other members (e.g., Cannon-Bowers, Tannenbaum, Salas, & Volpe, 1995; Entin & Serfaty, 1999). Further studies are needed for gaining a better understanding of the processes underlying team coordination in sport and how these processes contribute to the effectiveness of collective action. As an illustration, it would be useful to determine the role of unintentional communication in team coordination. Moreover, these studies should be conducted with dyadic (e.g., tennis doubles) and non dyadic teams (e.g., basketball team).

From a practical perspective, our results suggest that several types of training procedures could facilitate coordination among athletes. Although improving the athlete's knowledge bases about his or her partner or opponent is important (Stout et al., 1996), other training procedures should be developed. Reflective practices using video recording can be introduced, for example, to help improve the athlete's capacity (a) to identify opponent's or partner's typical responses in a given situation and (b) to take into account the elements of the current situation in order to base actions on these elements (e.g., Eccles & Tenenbaum, 2007; Seve et al., 2006; Stout et al., 1996). Exercises that develop the capacity to influence the opponent's or partner's perceptions of contextual elements should also be introduced. In table tennis, Seve et al. (2006) published various practical proposals for improving inquiry and masking. It seems important to complete these previous proposals by formulating contents of training to improve the other processes that regulate contextual information sharing (i.e., monitoring, displaying certain aspects of one's activity, and focusing).

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Endnotes

(1) Mutual awareness is a subset of the broader notion of situation awareness in cooperation and coordination between individuals.

(2) The analysis did not include involvement (E), which referred to the opening/closing of the possibles that follow from the principle of equilibration in an actor's interactions with his or her situation at a given instant. We assumed that the sharing of preoccupations between the two players did not provide data on their sharing of contextual information, even though it played a role in the construction of collective activity.

(3) Playing "close to the body" consists of returning the ball close to the player's body, particularly to a zone that forces him to choose between hitting backhand or forehand.

Germain Poizat (1), Jerome Bourbousson (2), Jacques Saury (2), and Carole Seve (2)

(1) University of Burgundy, France

(2) University of Nantes, France

Corresponding author: Germain Poizat, Universite de Bourgogne--Faculte des Sciences du Sport, Campus Universitaire--BP 27877, 21078 DIJON CEDEX. Tel: +33 3 80 39 67 44, Fax: +33 3 80 39 67 02, Email: germain.poizat@u-bourgogne.fr
Table 1. Two-level protocol excerpt showing the players' moves and
communications across from their verbalizations.

Jules' verbalizations      Score / Players'     Paul's verbalizations
                               behaviors

Here at 0-0, before             Set 1           Jules and I are a good
beginning, we're        The two teams move      doubles team. In
confident. We know      close to the table.     doubles, I don't feel
that we play well       Paul prepares to        too much pressure
together. But we also   return a serve.         because I can play my
know that it will be                            game. I don't have to
hard because the                                attack. My role is to
opponents are highly                            put Jules into
ranked.                                         position to
                                                counterattack. I know
                                                what I have to do.
                                                Still, the opponents
                                                are really strong. I
                                                know that if they
                                                start with a
                                                successful attack, our
                                                confidence risks being
                                                undermined [0-0].

OK, here it's only the        Set 1, 0-0        Here's the type of
first point. We make    The opponent serves     point I'm looking for.
the first point, but    short with backspin.    I don't need to attack
it's more from an       Paul returns on the     on the opponent's
error on their part.    Set 1, 1-0 backhand     serve. Jules often
[1-0].                  side. The opponent      encourages me to
                        attacks and loses the   attack but I know very
                        point.                  well that I shouldn't.
                        Set 1, 0-0              [1-0].

Table 2. Illustration of how contextual information sharing was
identified by comparing the contents of the two players' hexadic signs.

SIGN 1--Jules

E   Win the match
A   Expectations about highly ranked opponents
S   Paul and I make a good doubles team--The
      opponents are really quite good
R   Beginning of doubles match
U   Confident but thinks the game will be tough
I   Not identified

Information
sharing

SIGN 1--Paul

E   Win the match
A   Expectations about highly ranked opponents
    Paul and I make a good doubles team--Jules
    attacks better than I do - My role is basically to
    set up Jules's attacks - The opponents are really
    quite good
R   Beginning of doubles match
U   Confident but thinks that his main role is to set
    up Jules's attacks
I   Not identified

SIGN 2--Paul

E   Disturb the opponents' attacks
A   Expectations about highly ranked opponents
    Jules attacks better than I do--My role is
    basically to set up Jules's attacks--The opponents
    are good at attacking
R   Short backspin serve
U   Returns backspin on the backhand side
I   Not identified

SIGN 2--Jules

E   Get off to a good start
A   Expectations about highly ranked opponents'
    attacks
S   There are often mistakes in setting up play at
    the beginning
R   Failed attack by the opponent
U   Thinks that the opponent made a mistake
I   Not identified

Information
sharing

SIGN 3--Paul

E   Disturb the opponents' attacks
A   Expectations about highly ranked opponents'
    attacks
S   Jules attacks better than I do
R   Backspin return
U   Thinks he returned the serve well
I   Validation of the type: "My role is basically to set
    up Jules' attacks"

Note. These signs were reconstructed from the data given in Table
1. The contents of potential actuality (A), referential (S),
representamen (R), elementary unit of the course of action (U), and
interpretant (I) were judged as being similar and thus shared by
the two players (Jules Sign 1/Paul Sign 1; Jules Sign2/Paul Sign
3); they are thus indicated in italic. The analysis did not include
involvement (E).

Table 3. Frequencies and illustrations of the different natures of the
information that was shared between opponents.

                                             Illustrations

Nature of             Frequency
information              (%)                    Chris

Singles

Information about     9          Here I'm exaggerating a bit. I'm
expectations (A)                 talking to destabilize him. [Chris,
                                 Singles, Set 6, 2-4]
                                 [right arrow] Expectation about
                                 Greg's possible loss of
                                 concentration

                                 I know that above all I have to
                                 avoid playing to his backhand side
Information           21         because he always sends the ball
about mobilized                  somewhere impossible. [Chris,
types (S)                        [right arrow] Greg's backhand stroke
                                 is one of his strong points Singles,
                                 Set 2, 5-5]

                                 Here I make another mistake in my
Information about                serve return. This is not good.
meaningful signs      36         [Chris, Singles, Set 1, 2-3]
in the situation (R)             [right arrow] Mistake in serve
                                 return

                                 Here I'm a bit down because I'm
Information about                taking risks but they are not paying
interpretations       29         off. Something had better start
constructed in the               working for me. [Chris, Singles, Set
situation (U)                    [right arrow] Thinks he's made too
                                 many mistakes and this is not good
                                 3, 1-3]

                                 Here it's now several times that
Information                      Greg has surprised me with this
about new types       5          attack to my backhand side. [Chris,
constructed during               Singles, Set 3, 7-10]
interaction (I)                  [right arrow] Construction of a
                                 type: "Greg surprises me on my
                                 backhand side"

                                    Illustrations

Nature of
information                              Greg

Singles

Information about     I'm not looking at him because I know
expectations (A)      that if I do he's going to talk to me and
                      try to break my concentration. [Greg,
                      Singles, Set 6, 4-2]
                      [right arrow] Expectation about losing
                      concentration

                      I make an attack with my backhand.
                      It's one of my favorite strokes. [Greg,
Information           Singles, Set 2, 5-5]
about mobilized       [right arrow] The backhand stroke is one of my
types (S)             strong points

                      Chris's third direct mistake in the serve.
Information about     I'm getting confident about my serves.
meaningful signs      [Greg, Singles, Set 1, 3-2]
in the situation (R)  [right arrow] Chris's mistake in serve return

                      Here I can sense that he is not doing
Information about     well, he's doubting himself and is
interpretations       making a lot of direct mistakes. [Greg,
constructed in the    Singles, Set 3, 3-1]
situation (U)         [right arrow] Thinks Chris is making too many
                      mistakes and this is not good

                      Here's a perfect point. I attack on his
Information           backhand side and it works really well.
about new types       [Greg, Singles, Set 3, 10-7]
constructed during    [right arrow] Validation of the type: I surprise
interaction (I)       Chris by playing to his backhand side"

Note. For the singles match, the score is given in the following order:
(1) score of the player whose verbalizations are presented and (2)
score of the opponent.

Table 4. Frequencies and illustrations of the different natures of the
information that was shared between partners.

                                             Illustrations

Nature of information  Frequency                Jules
                          (%)

DOUBLES

                                  Here I missed an easy ball but,
                                  well, we're running the game and
Information about         16      that's important in this match
expectations (A)                  because the opponents are very
                                  offensive players. [Jules,
                                  Doubles, Set 1, 4-3]
                                  [right arrow] Expectations about
                                  offensive players

Information               18      Here's beautiful topspin from Paul.
about mobilized                   It's good, it shows we can attack.
types (S)                         I encourage Paul so he'll continue.
                                  [Jules, Doubles, Set 3, 5-5]
                                  I have to encourage Paul to attack

Information                       Good serve return from Paul, it
about meaningful          34      lets me attack. [Jules, Doubles,
signs in the                      Set 1, 7-3]
situation (R)                     [right arrow] Paul's serve return
                                  performance

Information about                 So here I'm on the defensive. We
interpretations           28      have to play shorter because the
constructed in the                opponents  are going on the attack.
situation (U)                     [Jules, Doubles, Set 1, 8-7]
                                  [right arrow] Thinks that the
                                  opponents are becoming offensive

Information                4      Twice the same point. Paul's serve
about new types                   is too long and this forces me to
constructed                       counterattack from a poor position.
during interaction                [Jules, Doubles, Set 2, 9-9]
(I)                               [right arrow] Construction of a
                                  type: "Paul can't manage to serve
                                  short"

                                     Illustrations

Nature of information           Paul

DOUBLES

                       Here I attempt a strong shot. It's good
                       that the opponents have to follow our
Information about      rhythm. This is what you have to do with
expectations (A)       offensive opponents like them. [Paul,
                       Doubles, Set 1, 4-3]
                       [right arrow] Expectations about offensive
                       players

Information            One of my first topspins. It's Jules
about mobilized        who pushes me, he tells me to attack
types (S)              even though I have a tendency to be
                       defensive when I return serves. [Paul,
                       Doubles, Set 3, 5-5]
                       [right arrow] Jules encourages me to attack

Information            Good serve return that builds my self-
about meaningful       confidence. [Paul, Doubles, Set 1, 7-3]
signs in the           [right arrow] Serve return performance
situation (R)
Information about      We're beginning to lose the initiative,
interpretations        it's the opponents who have gained the
constructed in the     offensive on these last points. [Paul,
situation (U)          Doubles, Set 1, 8-7]
                       [right arrow] Thinks that the opponents are
                       becoming offensive

Information            Here I'm not happy because my serve
about new types        is too long. I can't manage to serve
constructed            short twice in a row. [Paul, Doubles,
during interaction     Set 2, 9-9]
(I)                    [right arrow] Construction of a type: I can't
                       manage to serve short"

Note. For the doubles match, the score is given in the following order:
(1) score of Jules and Paul and (2) score of their opponents.
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Article Details
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Author:Poizat, Germain; Bourbousson, Jerome; Saury, Jacques; Seve, Carole
Publication:International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology
Article Type:Report
Date:Dec 1, 2009
Words:11170
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