Swiss researchers have concluded that expert tennis players have an advantage in certain visual perception skills, while UK scientists have shown how trained animals—and presumably, humans—rely on a superior internal model to predict the path of a fast-moving object. For any sport involving a moving object, athletes must learn three levels of response. First, there’s the basic reaction (see it and get out of the way). Next, there’s a perceptual reaction, meaning you can identify the object (a tennis ball). Finally, there’s a cognitive reaction, meaning you have a plan (return the ball with top-spin)
Scientists carried out seven visual tests, covering a range of perceptual functions, each requiring participants to push buttons based on their responses to computer-based tasks and each related to an aspect of visual perception. Tennis players showed significant advantages in speed discrimination and motion detection tests, but they were no better in other categories. And they scored better than triathletes.