Combining action observation (AO) and physical practice contributes to motor skill learning, and a number of studies pointed out the beneficial role of AO training in improving the motor performance and the athletes' movement kinematics. The aim of this study was to investigate if AO combined with immediate conventional training was able to improve motor performance and kinematic parameters of a complex motor skill such as the lineout throw, a gesture that represents a key aspect of rugby, that is unique to this sport. Twenty elite rugby players were divided into 2 groups. The AO group watched a 5-min video-clip of an expert model performing the lineout throw towards a target at 7 m distance and, immediately after the AO, this group executed the conventional training, consisting of 6 repetitions x 5 blocks of throws. The CONTROL group performed only the conventional lineout training. Intervention period lasted 4 weeks, 3 sessions/week. The AO group showed significant improvements in throwing accuracy (i.e. number of throws hitting the target), whilst no significant changes were observed in the CONTROL group. As concerns kinematic parameters, hooker's arm mean velocity significantly increased in both groups, but the increase was higher in AO group compared to CONTROL group. Ball velocity significantly increased only in the AO group, whereas ball angle release and ball spinning significantly decreased in both groups, with no differences between groups. Finally, no significant changes in knee and elbow angles were observed. Our results showed that the combination of AO and conventional training was more effective than a conventional training alone in improving the performance of elite rugby players, in executing a complex motor skill, such as the lineout. This combined training led to significant improvements in throwing accuracy and in hooker's and ball's kinematic parameters. Since AO can be easily implemented in combination with conventional training, the results of this study can encourage coaches in designing specific lineout training programs, which include AO cognitive training.
- Action observation and execution
- Sport training
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