The Eyes Have It (article)

eyesWhat are the advantages that the top performers have over the typical ones? Equipment, experience, knowledge or skill you say. That is certainly true but one of the differences might be in the way they use their eyes. We are not going to be talking about where you should be looking once the targets are visible although that is important as well. We are going to look at some recent research on what we are doing visually before we call for the targets. Is there a connection between consistent mental performance and eye movement? We will look at these issues in this article.

Ever heard of “The Quiet Eye Phenomenon”? I’ve just returned from speaking at The World Scientific Congress of Golf and one of the speakers was Dr. Joan Vickers of the University of Calgary. Here is what she says about her research on what she calls the quiet eye phenomenon.

“By recording under laboratory conditions precisely what golfers see while they putt, my team of researchers in the NeuroMotor Psychology Laboratory at the University of Calgary are beginning to figure out what separates really good putters from the rest. We call it The Quiet Eye. “

“The Quiet Eye occurs when your gaze remains absolutely still on the ball just before and as the stroke is performed. There are two important aspects to this basic yet essential skill: location and duration. Our research has shown that golfers who putt well focus their gaze on either the back of the ball or the top of the ball. Which is better? Both locations are effective in improving accuracy, but a weight of evidence is beginning to favor the back of the ball. We’ve also studied Quiet Eye duration.

The expert putters had Quiet Eye duration of two to three seconds on average, while the less skilled players held their gaze steady for one to two seconds. The same result has been found in a number of other sport skills such as rifle shooting, darts, billiards and the basketball free throw. In putting as well as in other hand eye target skills, The Quiet Eye is emerging as an indicator of optimal focus and concentration. Why is it essential that you develop a Quiet Eye when you putt? It’s simple, your hands are controlled by your brain, which gets valuable information about what to do from your eyes. As you putt, your brain needs to organize more than 100 billion neurons. These neural networks are informed by your gaze, and control your hands, arms and body as the stroke is performed. These networks will stay organized for only a short period of time; a window of opportunity opens that must be used when it is at its most optimal. This is The Quiet Eye period.

Interesting? You bet! This research is a good reason to send your kids to college. Smart people doing stuff that actually helps the rest of us hit more targets. So, what does this mean to you? It might mean that if you look precisely at one spot for 2 to 3 seconds before taking a shot (golf, shotgun, etc.) you just might hit more of them. Looking at Dr. Vickers research from a shooter’s point of view we can see a lot of parallels between golf and shotgun shooting. They don’t call sporting clays golf with a shotgun for nothing.

First, a sport like sporting clays or golf is definitely a hand-eye-target skill. I feel that a more complete word might be mind-eye-hand-target skill. If the mind is not engaged properly first the eye does not lock on to the target. And if the eye does not lock on to the target we do not move the hands/shotgun in the correct manner to break the target. We need the mind to do its job first. Let’s look at this in more detail.

There are three mental processes at work to execute both a golf shot and a shot on a target. The conscious mind is the first mental process and it is largely a left brain process. The left brain handles processing the information from our senses and our decision making. For golf it is choosing which club to use, how we are going to hit the ball and lining up the shot. For shotgun it is deciding on the break points, setting up a strategy to break the targets and rehearsing the move to make this all happen smoothly and on time. These are all left brain processes; Conscious Mind Processes. Now, here is the problem. Shooting the target should be a Subconscious Process and that is primarily a right brain process. How are we going to transfer the action from left brain to right brain? One way to look at this is that the left brain needs to quiet so that the right brain can do its job. This can actually be demonstrated and measured by studying the electrical activity of the brain. Dr. Debbie Crews of Arizona State has done just that and she has determined that when the left brain quiets performance increases. We become more consistent because we are not thinking too much. If fact, the left brain does what it is supposed to do but does not inhibit the right brain.

I can’t prove it, but I have a theory. I believe that one reason why the quiet eye works is because it allows the left brain time to quite down and allow the right brain to shoot the shotgun subconsciously. We teach shooters to “Run a Mental Program” just prior to calling for the target. We have talked about this technique before in previous articles. The Mental Program seems to aid the shooter in both blocking out outcome oriented thoughts and in increasing the chance of Subconscious shot execution. Since reading about the Quiet Eye Phenomenon I have paid attention to what the top shooters appear to be doing with their eyes just prior to calling for the target. A remarkable number of them are holding their eyes still for 1 to 2 seconds just prior to calling for the target. Now the reason for this delay might be that they want to insure that they lock on to the target visually. I feel that there is an added benefit of giving the left brain time to quiet just in time to allow for the shot to be subconsciously performed.

By Lanny Bassham

Founder of Mental Management Systems


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