Joan Vickers, PhD, a researcher and professor at the University of Calgary, is one of the world's foremost authorities on sports vision. Her new book, Perception, Cognition, and Decision Training: The Quiet Eye in Action, explores this issue.
Vickers found that elite athletes in almost all sports, whether they know it or not, use their eyes quite differently than less-skilled athletes. She refers to this ability as the "quiet eye." The quiet eye is a final fixation or tracking gaze that is located on a specific object or area within the field of vision (no more than three degrees off the target) and is held for a minimum of 100 milliseconds. The quiet eye has been shown to be a characteristic of elite athletes in several sports, including golf, basketball, volleyball, rifle shooting, table tennis and ice hockey.
Vickers has developed quiet-eye training programs in several of those sports. The training involves both watching video models of elite athletes and getting video feedback of their own "gaze behavior" to help athletes develop the same quiet-eye focus and motor control used by world-class athletes.
Quiet Eye Free-Throw Shooting
In one study, Vickers and her colleagues trained members of a university basketball team in the quiet-eye method over two seasons of league play. The players were shown their gaze on video, which was compared to the gaze of elite athletes performing the same task. Then they were coached to shoot free throws using techniques based on the quiet-eye approach, and their results were compared to a control group. By the end of the second season, the quiet-eye team members improved their free throw shooting accuracy by 22.6 percent. The quiet-eye-trained team also improved its free-throw shooting ranking from 70th nationally to second.
Below are the coaching points emphasized for shooting free throws using the quiet-eye technique:
1. Take your stance at the line, and orient your gaze to the hoop as soon as possible. Fixate the hoop (stare at the hoop) even as you carry out your pre-shot routine.
2. Hold the ball in front and fix your eyes a single location on the hoop (front, back or middle) for one second. Stability of the quiet eye on one location is crucial. Visualize the ball going into the basket.
3. When ready, shoot the free-throw so that the ball and your hands travel up through the midline of your body. The ball will briefly block your line of sight as it enters field of vision workspace. Learn not to watch the movement of the ball or your hands during the shooting motion. Do not move the ball to the side.
4. Shoot using a quick, fluid motion.