The use of Think Aloud Protocol to Investigate Golfers Decision Making Processes

Whitehead, Amy, Elizabeth (2015) The use of Think Aloud Protocol to Investigate Golfers Decision Making Processes. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Decision making in sport in general and golf in particular has received only limited attention in the sport psychological literature. In addition, research which has been conducted has mainly used retrospective methods of data collection to investigate athlete’s thoughts and decisions during performance. Ericsson and Simon (1993) proposed Think Aloud (TA) protocol analysis as a tool for collecting concurrent data of cognitive processes. As a result this thesis aimed to investigate the efficacy of this method for the collection of decision making data in sport using a self-paced sport in particular to investigate the decision making process in differing skill level golfer’s. Within this thesis 4 studies were conducted. Study 1 used TA to investigate differences in decision making of 30 skilled and 30 novice golfer’s on a putting task, and examine if different verbalization instructions influence performance. Participants performed 30 putts on an indoor green in either a level 2, level 3, or no verbalization condition. Level 3 verbalization produced a higher volume of verbal data than level 2. Skilled golfers verbalized more about gathering information and planning putts than novices, while novices verbalized more technical instruction than skilled golfers. TA verbalizations at either level 2 or level 3 did not impair putting performance compared to no verbalization. It was concluded that TA protocol is an appropriate method for exploring decision making in self-paced motor tasks such as golf.
Study 2 aimed to further investigate the appropriateness and the use of TA by examining the congruence between data collected via think aloud protocol at level 3 and cued retrospective recall of decisions on a golfing task. Six high level male golfers performed six holes of golf whilst engaging in level 3 think aloud, this involved describing one’s thoughts and explaining one’s decisions during the task. After performance, three semi-structured retrospective interviews were conducted. The first was ten minutes after performance, the second 24 hours after performance, and the third 48 hours after performance. Think aloud verbalizations and interviews were transcribed verbatim and coded. Content analysis was used to identify first and second order themes related to decision making on the golf task. A comparison of the themes identified indicated large discrepancies between the information reported during think aloud and at interview, with only 38-41% similarity in variables reported to influence decision making on each hole. These findings suggest retrospective recall of decision making is limited since relevant information is lost due to memory decay. Limitations of both methods were discussed. However, future research in sport could record decision making processes in event, employing the think aloud protocol.
Following the studies 1 and 2 which demonstrated that TA is a suitable method of data collection for collecting decision making data in golf Study 3 aimed to extend previous research on decision making in golf and the expert-novice paradigm by comparing the thought processes of six higher skilled (m handicap 4) and six lower skilled (m handicap 20) male golfers. Participants were asked to think aloud while playing six holes of golf. Verbalisations were recorded, transcribed, and grouped into the themes of (a) Gathering information, (b) Club selection (c) Planning (d) Technical instruction, (e) Shot evaluation and (f) Pre-performance routine. Differences were found between skill levels in that higher skill golfers decisions centred more on gathering information and planning whereas less skilled golfers focused more on technical instruction. These results are consistent with theories of skill acquisition in that higher skilled performers are less reliant on step-by-step monitoring of the skilled motor performance as opposed to beginners.
Finally, study 4 aimed to progress the findings of study 3 by investigating whether stress through the introduction of a competition with monetary prizes will influence performance and the thought process in high and intermediate skilled golfers. A total of 16 participants took part in this study, 8 skilled golfers and 8 intermediate level golfers. All golfers completed the Decision Specific Reinvestment Scale (DSRS; Kinrade, Jackson, Ashford and Bishop, 2010b). Following this participants either took part in a practice round or a competition round and this was counterbalanced to eliminate practice effect. All participants prior to the competition round were instructed that prizes were given to the top three performers and these consisted of £100 voucher for golf merchandise for the winner, £70 voucher for second place and £30 voucher for third place. All golfers were asked to think aloud whilst performing both practice and competition. Verbalisation were recorded, transcribed and grouped in to themes of (a) gathering information, (b) Club selection (c) Planning (d) Technical instruction, (e) Shot evaluation and (f) Dwelling on past shot. The introduction of stress did not influence performance, however under stress it was found that higher skilled golfers were more likely to use technical rules compared to normal practice conditions, especially during putting performance. Furthermore, high level golfers reported more planning compared to intermediate golfers during both practice and competition condition. These findings support Masters (1993) theory of reinvestment.
The findings of the thesis suggest first that the think aloud protocol is a viable methodology to obtain rich and valid data. Secondly, findings suggest that the decision making process is influenced by the skill level of the athlete and stress. Although the decision making process appeared to be more influenced in higher skilled golfers. From a practical perspective findings suggest using think aloud can aid a player or coach to understand their thought process and to identify what may happen to a golfers performance when faced with the pressure of a competition.

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