Top of the top: it’s in your eyes!

How is it that top athletes achieve top performances? Psychologists and neuroscientists are speaking of a phenomenon called the “quiet eye”. The “quiet eye” would be a kind of enhanced visual perception that allows the athlete to eliminate any distractions as they plan their next move.

It appears that this “quiet eye” is particularly important at times of stress, preventing the athlete from “choking” at moments of high pressure.

Vickers, an athlete and PhD candidate at the University of British Columbia hooked a group of professional golfers up to a device that precisely monitored their eye movements as they putted their balls. She found out a fascinating correlation: the better the player (as measured by their golfing handicap) the longer and steadier their gaze on the ball just before, and then during their strike. Novices, by contrast, tended to shift their focus between different areas of the scene, with each fixation lasting for shorter periods of time.

If it is generally assumed that more rapid mental processing is optimal, according to Vicker’s results, the expert athlete actually slowed down their thinking at the crucial moment.

You want numbers? Vicker’s work shows that the expert athlete can hold its gaze 62% longer than novices.

If a quiet eye is great for athletes, can it be good for learners? A University of Exeter study has found that quiet eye training can help children with coordination problems improve their physical abilities. This contradicts a commonly held belief that the issue is with the motor system itself.

It seems like the latest research on motor performance seems to support the notion that sensory input is critical. In that respect, it could be interesting to integrate Posturology and Functional Neurology in the preparation program for athletes of all levels.

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