It’s the oldest piece of advice in the history of sports that use balls in the playing thereof.
Seriously, dudes, what did your dads tell you when you were learning how to hit a baseball that actually moved off the tee and was headed right for you?
“Keep your eye on the ball.”
It’s a piece of advice and, also, a metaphor. It means for you to literally keep your gaze on the ball you’re about to either hit with a stick or kick or whatever. Watch the ball until your planned maneuver is finished. This allows you to concentrate more fully on what you want to do, rather than have just any old thing happen.
It’s also a metaphor for making sure you keep your objective in mind as you pursue it. Keep your eye on the ball and don’t get sidetracked watching Youtube videos when you’ve got a history paper. That sort of thing.
Very good advice in either case. We all know it. We all do it.
As it turns out, we don’t. And we know this because there are very many people who want to become much better golfers. No, really.
Recently, researchers in England set out to determine whether weekend golfers could improve their game through one of two approaches. Some were coached on individual swing technique, while others were instructed to gaze fixedly at the ball before putting. The researchers hoped to learn not only whether looking at the ball affects performance, but also whether where we look changes how we think and feel while in action.
Although we’re taught this sort of thing in elementary school or earlier, there’s a growing body of research that says people are looking away when they thought they weren’t or looking for far shorter times than they had thought they were. It’s almost like we can’t believe our own eyes.
So these researchers divided the subjects up into one group that got putting practice and one group that was trained in “Quiet Eye” looking.
Quiet Eye training, as the name suggests, is an attempt to get people to stop flicking their focus around so much. But “Quiet Eye training is not just about looking at the ball,” says Mark Wilson, who led the study, published in Psychophysiology, and is a senior lecturer in human movement science at the University of Exeter in England. “It is about looking at the ball for long enough to process aiming information.” It involves reminding players to first briefly sight toward the exact spot where they wish to send the ball, and then settle their eyes onto the ball and hold them there.
A quiet, focused eye, in other words, seems to encourage a quiet, focused mind, which then makes for more accurate putting.
So, after all that training, what was the result? Well, it turns out that the people who refined their putting technique didn’t do as well as those who only trained their eyes and learned to look with a quieter, more firm focus.
The thing I find most interesting about all this, is the idea that — because we all were taught this at a young age — we assume we’re already doing it; already keeping our eyes on the ball. And we’re not. Simply refocusing ourselves on some of the most elementary parts of a complex process can generate greatly improved results.
Something to think about, yeah?
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