Dr. Joan Vickers’ research on targeting is revealing secrets of how elite athletes utilize their eyes to target in sports such as golf, hockey and tennis. Specifically, this research informs us where to best look and for how long. Using a head mounted eye tracker, Vickers discovered that there are significant differences between how elite athletes use their eyes for targeting compared to less skilled players. Specifically, elite athletes have less eye movements in their targeting and have a longer sustained gaze. Read on to learn more about the improving your “quiet eye” and how to implement this into your targeting method on the lanes to greatly improve your accuracy.
In fact, Vickers’ findings could be some of the most important new contributions to sports science informing us how to target better in all sports.
Vickers conducted research on golfers to compare differences in eye movement and gaze length, between experts and novices. Professionals had more efficient eye movements with less variation. Elite golfers focused only on targeting at a specific small point, the breakpoint, and then back to a spot on the back of the ball, the contact point. This was a very straight scan path. Novices’ eye movements were far more varied in very different directions. This led their scan path to be all over the place.
Moreover, in this putting research, in addition to less eye movements, the expert putters held their gaze longer on both the breakpoint of the putt and on the contact point of the ball. In fact, the experts kept their eye on the contact of the ball after the ball was gone. If you are a golfer, try this method. Focus on the cup or the breakpoint for 2 seconds. Smoothly return to the contact point of the ball, the back of the ball. Hold this gaze for 2 seconds. After striking the ball, keep your eye on the contact point for 1 second.
And, these findings were found in other sports as well. Research on expert marksmanship revealed that expert shooters gazed at the target longer than less accurate shooters. Specifically, the better shooters averaged 12 seconds of target gaze while the novices 8 seconds on target. In other studies, of billiards and archery, similar findings were revealed. The longer the period of quiet eye, the more proficient the players were.
Dr. Vickers has been training teams to promote improved quiet eye. With a training application to promote the quiet eye in basketball, a free-throw improvement of 22%, from 54% in season 1 to 76% conversion percentage rate in the following season. The quiet eye training led to a season improvement of nearly 25%. With less eye movements and longer target gaze times, the process of targeting utilized by experts in all sports revealed that quiet eye also contributed to keeping the athletes calmer. Specifically, in a number of studies, athletes who held their gaze longer also were calmer mentally and physically. In one study, increased alpha waves were released in the left hemisphere, reducing the analytical side of the brain.
Most Athletes Are Unaware of Where They Are Actually Looking
What was most revealing was the fact that most athletes believe they were looking longer at the target. With the eye tracker it was clear that many athletes were actually looking around and not aware that they were actually doing this. In essence, this is as simple as implementing a focus and pause process in your targeting. As one researcher stated, “It isn’t about aiming, it is about dwelling.” This requires a purposeful focus on increasing your gaze time on your target and reducing your unconscious just looking around without your knowledge.
Implementing A Quieter Eye On The Lanes
Here is a process that will help you develop a quiet eye on the lanes.
Step 1: Focus Where You Want the Ball To Go. Begin with a target down the lane. This is exactly where you want the ball to go. Hold your gaze on this point for 2 full seconds. I recommend utilizing the exit point because it informs us where research states we should target. To find the exit point use the following formula Pattern Length – 31 = the actual target board at the end of the pattern Try saying “exit-point site, exit-point locked” to ensure you are looking for an adequate amount of time. But, many readers will continue to use a break point. If so, say “break point site, break point locked.”
Step 2: Bring your eyes back to a visual target. At this point, do not look anywhere other than the visual target. You need to train yourself to move from the target down the lane to a visual target that is closer. Specifically, move smoothly from the exit point to your visual target. Keep your eye on this visual target for 2 full seconds before you enter into the approach. If you need, make the following statement, “target-on” + pause + “target-lock” which will be approximate two seconds. .
Step 3: Keep your eye on the visual target after the ball passes through it. From the beginning of your approach until the ball passes through your target, keep your eye on the visual target. This will take practice as you will want to immediately watch the ball. Work to keep your eye on where the ball was to hit even after the ball has gone past it.
Compare Your Before and After Targeting
Use data to compare before and after. Use pocket percentage as an indicator of the accuracy of the targeting methods. Take 20 shots with your current targeting method. Then, practice this new targeting method for one full game. Then, take another 20 shots with this new targeting method. How did your accuracy compare?
For more information on Vickers research, visit http://www.pbs.org/saf/1206/video/watchonline.htm to watch Scientific American Frontiers coverage of her research.
Behan, M. & Wilson, M. (2007). Journal of Sports Science, 1 - 9 Harle, S.K. & Vickers. J. (2001). Training Quiet Eye Improves Accuracy in the Basketball Free Throw. The Sport Psychologist, 15, 289 – 305.
Harmel, K. (1999, October 5). Deep Focus And Steady Aim Are Key To Making The Shot. University of Florida News.
Harmel. K. (1999, June 15). “Quiet Eye” Is The Key To Making The Shot, Says UF Sports Researcher. University of Florida News.
Vickers, J. (2004, January). The Quiet Eye: It’s the Difference Between a Good Putter and a Poor One. Golf Digest