Elite players anticipated the outcome of a pitch much better than less skilled players. They could make fairly good predictions after watching the bowlers take just a single step, and, if they got to see the pitch up to the moment of release, their accuracy improved dramatically. The first predictions of less skilled players were no better than chance, and their predictions improved only if they were able to watch the pitch until the ball was in actually in flight. This study suggest that predicting the outcome of a task seems to involve the same areas of the brain that the athlete develops in practice, which would explain why athletes tend to fare better on challenges which involve skills in which they have practiced.
In a related study, Salvatore Aglioti of Sapienza University assembled a group of people, some of whom were professional basketball players, and scanned their brains as they watched movies of other players taking free throws. Some of the movies stopped before the ball left the players’ hands; others stopped just after the release of the ball. The subjects then had to predict whether the ball went through the hoop or not. The pros in the group showed a lot of activity in those regions of the brain that control hand and arm muscles, but, in the non-athletes, those regions were relatively quiet. It appears that the basketball players were mentally reenacting the free throws in their minds, using their expertise to guess how the players in the movies would perform.