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CTA in Effect: Case studies demonstrating the benefits of Cognitive Task Analysis

Applied Cognitive Task Analysis to Improve Olympic Athlete Coaching

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Primary Submitter:

Scott Simon,


High-Performance Sport, Elite Coaching

Generic description of sponsoring organization or customer:

World-Class Programme within the UK High-Performance system, preparing athletes for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Cognitive Task Analysis Method(s):

Applied Cognitive Task Analysis (Militello & Hutton 1998).

Number of Participants:

Total Number = 8 (Olympic Coaches, n=3; Paralympic Coaches, n=3
Inter-disciplinary Specialist Coaches, n=2).


A total of 26 months for the project length. One month (May 2018) for data collection and one month for interpretation (June 2018).

ACTA was used as a training tool and data collection method, throughout a 22-month period to inform:

1) development of a Shared Mental Model (SMM) to align discipline experts (coaches and sport Scientists) to enhance the performance setting;

2) the continual professional development (CPD) of elite practitioners. The period supporting the application of learning and delivery of results (Tokyo Olympic Games Aug 2021 and Paralympic Games Sep 2021). (Covid-19 Pandemic extended the application phase).


Findings share
The evidence and applied learning that was derived from the ACTA research were profound and supported the paralympic team to ‘readdress’ their SMM of performance, with the specific focus of informing the knowledge relating to the acceleration phase (first component of the ‘start’ phase for 200m race). These practices continue to be implemented and refined today as those involved as research participants champion the applied outcomes, as a way of working within the team and shared across the UK High-Performance community.

Instructional and/or training experience
1) ACTA was used to converge SMM across a high-performance management team. The engagement with ACTA during the training campaign enhances the functionality of the management team and influences performance outcomes for the athletes.

2) ACTA enabled the complexity of the race start to be sub-divided into discreet components which had previously not been done, enhancing understanding of knowledge, cognitions and skills needed to execute this task from a performer perspective and how the coach can facilitate through integrated pedagogical practices.

3) The findings informed professional development within the education of pathway coaches and allied inter-disciplinary professionals such as strength & conditioning, physiotherapists, psychologists etc.

4) Task Diagrams, Knowledge Audit, and Cognitive Demands Table can be used to inform coach education resource development and will contribute to informing the design of training.

Demonstration of value

Evidence of value
There have been a number of key insights that have been created:

1) the intellectual property of how to structure coaching observational process and creation of a Shared Mental Model (SMM) (Simon & Richards, 2022) of athlete performance, which remains confidential due to offering a performance advantage on the World stage;

2) the performance advantage and applied impact of this research have contributed to one Olympic medal and Olympic Record, seven Paralympic medals and four World Records at the Tokyo Games, and 52 Individual World Championship, European Championship and World Cup medals across the Tokyo cycle;

3) Supporting anecdotal evidence from the research, directly contributed to table-topping performance at Tokyo 2020 (Appendix 1 below). As examples within the Women’s KL3 classification within the life of this research, the GBR team took the World record of 51.02 secs, held by Sweden in 2018, to 49.58 in 2021 (2.8%). Further, in KL2, GBR reduced the World record from 48.56 in 2018, to 47.47 in 2021 (2.3%).

4) the promotion of ACTA in papers (Simon & Richards, 2022; Simon & Richards, 2023 under review) outlining ACTA as a method of elicitation and a tool informing training.

Customer-provided perspective
The insights gained have delivered the following real-world outcomes.

1). A greater clarity and awareness of the cognitive demands of observation within the coaching
process. Consequently, technology, ‘expert check and challenge’ and a richer understanding of the performance observed, have helped to mitigate cognitive challenges on coaches observation.

2) The ability to explore an aspect of performance at a granular level, and to use the granularity
to refine the detail, which in turn influences success in an elite context, where the difference
between winning and losing is marginal.

3). A deeper understanding of individualisation and the personalisation of coaching has allowed
the development of more bespoke SMMs. This understanding has also facilitated the development of asset-driven philosophies of what the athlete can do, which has crossed from Paralympic to Olympic sport, underpinning the creation of beta SMMs.

4). The coaching and support team have defined and aligned the SMM with clarity of role and
responsibility around its evolution. Consequently, tailored athlete performance plans have been
created for each athlete to develop individualised processes to support performance outcomes.

5). The need for knowledge exchange through the contribution of experts and informal sources of learning, has developed leadership and management skills to empower others in transformational, autonomous, interconnected environments.

6) ACTA is a valuable asset in the examination of performance and as a reflective tool to shape an individual’s professional learning.


Used in the case study
Militello, L. G. & Hutton, R. J.B. (1998) Applied Cognitive Task Analysis (ACTA): A
Practitioner’s Toolkit for Understanding Cognitive Task Demands.” Ergonomics Vol 41.11:

Hambrick, D. Z., & Hoffman, R. R. (2016). Expertise: A second look. IEEE Intelligent Systems,
31(4), 50-55.

Simon, S. & Richards, P. (2022). Individualising Coaching in Olympic and Paralympic Worlds:
An Applied Perspective. International Sports Coaching Journal. Vol 9 (3), 382-389.

Prior publication about this work
Detail of the ACTA process is under review:
Simon, S. & Richards, P. (2022). Investigating Cognitive Observational Difficulties and Expert
Skills in Elite Olympic & Paralympic Coaches Using an Applied Cognitive Task Analysis.
Journal of Expertise. Under Review.

Appendix 1.

Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Medal Table.