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Photo Vickers Joan Vickers
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Joan N. Vickers is a professor in the faculty of Kinesiology- the science of human movement - at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Vickers holds a Masters of Science from the University of Calgary and a Doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of British Columbia.

Vickers' research focuses on how cognition influences and guides decision-making in motor behavior. Vickers' discovery of "quiet eye" (QE), a period of time when the gaze is stable on spatial information critical to effective motor performance has been a key discovery. Insight into the information that performers use to guide and control their motor behavior is used to assist a wide range of participants - from novice to elite athletes to special populations, such as those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Vickers has been published in a number of leading peer-reviewed journals and has written several books, including the upcoming "Decision Training In Sport."

     

For links to this scientist's home page and other related information please see our resources page

Vickers responds :

04/02/02 Michael asks:
Hi, Joan. LOVE the show. My question is why the same eye dynamic in putting doesn't apply to tennis. In the putting, Alan Alda was told to keep his eye on the ball at the moment of impact and keep it there after the impact. But in the return of serve, you said the best thing is to take your eye off the ball at the last second. Why?

Vickers' response:
Thanks Michael. You are right in noticing that QE is different in the basketball free throw (on a precise location on the hoop) than in hitting a tennis ball. The basic idea behind quiet eye (QE) is that your brain needs a window of time to receive the right information in order to organize the movement and then control it while it is occurring. Focus and concentration through QE needs to be directed to the locations or objects that matter, while all else can be ignored.

The location of QE in tennis is very early in ball flight. You should track the ball closely as it comes off your opponent's racquet and during the first part of its flight. It is true that as the ball is hit the gaze is located in front of the ball and not on it at contact. This is due to limitations in our ability to track fast objects. But more importantly, the flight of the ball has to be assessed early so the hitting action can be set up and organized correctly. The same sort of QE control is used in hitting baseball, in playing table tennis and similar skills.

04/02/02 Jim in Wisconsin asks:
Can the Quiet Eye technique be taught to 10-12 year old basketball players? How would you begin this process?

Vickers' response:
Hi Jim, most definitely youngsters should use the QE technique. And the earlier QE is taught the better. First, ask the young player what location on the hoop he or she is looking at while shooting? Do not be surprised if they say they do not know. Have them try a few more shots and ask them to think about where they focus BEFORE they shoot. They may answer front rim (on the shiny part), the back of the rim (the shiny part), or the middle of the rim (the hole). All of these locations are fine. The important thing is to select only one location and keep the gaze focused there for 1-2 seconds BEFORE the upward movement of the hands into the shot. Let them try this a few times, then add the following final cues.

It is important to be slow while preparing the shot so the hoop can be clearly focused, but the shooting action itself should be fluid and quick. Also tell them that maintaining QE on the hoop as they shoot is not needed. Indeed, if the shot is performed correctly the ball will occlude the hoop and so cannot be fixated while shooting.

This last point is important as otherwise we see athletes move the ball to the side so they can peek around it, or try to shoot off the top of their heads so they can see under it. Very good shooters shoot up through the midline of the body and do not move the ball off this centerline.

04/02/02 Tom asks:
Hi, Our school basketball team isn't very good. I was amazed on how the "Quiet Eye" increased shot percentage. I will try to encourage that in our practices, but I would appreciate any specific information or key points that might aide us more. We finished last place in our district, but I don't believe it is because we are bad. We usually have "streaks" during the game where we can get ahead, and everything seems to click...but then it stops and we get slaughtered. Our hit percentages are terrible at times, and great at other times. I was hoping you might spare us a few minutes to help us out. Thank you for your time.

Vickers' response:
Hi David, you have asked the perennial question of all coaches. How can I get my players to be more consistent? Often when I see teams with the hot/cold performances you speak of, I find that they may be coached using too many behavioral methods. This was the dominant school of thought for all sports coaching until recently, and most coaches are unaware of the shift in what sport science defines as optimal coaching methods today.

Behavioral training features blocked practice drills where the following characteristics exist: the same skills are practiced to perfection; high levels of feedback are given constantly; instruction is delivered using simple to complex progression; and where there is limited simulation of what really happens in games. When behavioral methods are used extensively, performance is often impressive in the short term (so both the athletes and coaches think they are doing the best thing), but athletes trained too much in this way are unable to maintain or improve their performance in the long term. They lack the ability to perform consistently. Skills and tactics mastered early in training and performed well are not maintained as the season progresses. There is also a limited ability to perform in new and unusual settings.

What is being advocated today is the use of random and/or variable practice drills, delayed and/or reduced feedback as skill develops, the use of whole instruction, questioning, video feedback and video modeling. Collectively, these new methods completely change the practice environment where the athlete learns to deal with the realities of the game and where they become more self-sufficient. If you would like an easy to read booklet describing these methods I have summarized them in: Decision Training: A New Approach to Coaching. Go to the University of Calgary Bookstore at http://calgarybooks.collegestoreonline.com/. Search on Author: Vickers. They will mail you a copy.

04/02/02 Tom asks:
Is this Quiet Eye technique applicable only to sports where hand-eye co-ordination is important? Or could it also be useful in other sports, such as cross-country ski racing, in which I'm active?

Vickers' response:
Hi Tom, Yes, since QE is the location and duration of critical information in motor skills, then we work on the assumption that this it is present in all skills. We have just finished a pilot study in cross-country skiing. The objective of the study was to find out how far ahead a skier should look while negotiating a turn at high speeds. QE in this case was defined as the location and duration of the gaze prior to initiating the turn. We have also carried out similar work in speed-skating. Basically, what appears to be the case is that exceptionally fast athletes project QE forward much further than we imagined and this projection is linked to their speed. The faster they go the further ahead they need to locate QE.

04/02/02 James in Las Vegas, NV asks:
My 17 year-old daughter plays soccer and plans to play in college. Her shots on goal can be technically off and inconsistent, I believe due to rushing to get the ball off. In this game where a player may not have a second to focus on a certain point (or do they?) and has a moving goal keeper to try to out guess (stress factor), can the quiet eye be used? Have you done research with this type of sport? Thank You.

Vickers' response:
We have done some work in ice hockey shooting on goal that may help. We have identified two types of shooters - heads-up and heads-down. The heads-up shooter maintains the gaze on the target as the shot is taken. The heads-down shooter locates the target before the shot and then keeps the head-down and fixates the puck while shooting. The heads-down shooter actually sees the target both earlier and longer than does the heads-up shooter and overall this may be a better strategy. Goaltenders tell us the heads-down shooter is the more difficult to defend against as they do not telegraph where they are shooting via the gaze. Given the nature of he soccer kick, I would recommend you watch your daughter play to see how she controls her gaze while shooting. A heads-down approach is best. Encourage her to "see" the target early but then keep QE on the ball until it has left her foot. She should see the grass before looking up.

04/02/02 Jon asks:
Joan-- I'm a personal coach and am fascinated by the implications of "quiet eye." Two questions: There seems to be a difference between the QE for basketball and golf. In the first, the gaze needs to rest on the goal (the hoop) and in the second, on the ball (although there is a glance to the cup). In general, where should athletes focus? On the instrument or on the goal?

This question has implications for personal coaching as well. Would you be so unscientific as to speculate on the extension of the metaphors in QE to life in general? Here's what I notice in coaching people to achieve change in their lives: the default is to focus on the technique, and get bogged down in "should I do this, should I do that." When they focus relentlessly on the goal and not on technique or planning, they feel more relaxed, flexible, and often do great things in service to that goal. The question is, what do you concentrate on? I'd appreciate your ideas!

Vickers' response:
Jon, you are correct in noting that the location of QE in the free throw differs from that in golf. One reason for this is that the free throw is a far targeting skill that requires the hands be controlled precisely relative to one target, the hoop. The athlete fixates the gaze (QE) on one location on the hoop for 1-2 seconds before the upward shooting action of the hands and ball begins.

In contrast, golf putting has two targets (a near and a far) that requires precise focus and concentration, the ball and the hole (or the breakpoint in sloping putts). The ball must be struck precisely by the club face in order for the ball to be hit accurately to the hole (or breakpoint). Of the two targets in golf, our research shows that the near target may be the most important, however, I have not entirely resolved in my mind. We find that highly skilled golfers locate the gaze on the back of the ball where the club makes contact. This agrees with Dave Pelz's work on the impact point of the club face on the ball. Professional golfers hit the ball very precisely while lower skilled golfers have impact points spread all over the club face. QE is one key to keeping the club stable at impact.

But both the near and far target may be equally important in the golf putt. This is suggested by some new research I am conducting with Debbie Crews at the University of Arizona. We compared highly skilled professional golfers with novices when playing breaking putts. Our study showed that most novice golfers seem to be unaware of the breakpoint, while professional golfers may identify a breakpoint but are 50/50 in getting the location correct. Note: The breakpoint is the precise location where the putt begins to roll toward the hole.

As for your second question, I enjoy trying to solve very difficult scientific problems. From the beginning of my research career, I always wondered how skilled people saw the world and why this made a difference. I simply go where I perceive there may be answers to this question, so you are right, my overall goal has always been quite constant. When I first came into the eye movements research field, the subjects were not allowed to move. They viewed artificial stimuli and were restricted with a bite bar or chin rest and so no motor behavior was present. My first goal was to free the subject so that I could observe what they saw when performing. The Vision-In-Action system for collecting and analyzing the gaze of moving subjects came from this. I have been doing this work for 24 years. I cannot tell you how many times things have not worked out, but this does not bother me that much. It is normal course for this kind of work. Three steps back and one forward is normal. As you say, if the overall goal is clear, the reversals do not impact one that much.

04/02/02 Sheilah C. Barnett asks:
My son, Jared, is 16 and has ADHD. He is much better now that he is older and maturing. How can the "Quiet Eye" technique help him at baseball when he is batting or playing defense. He also plays football. Can the "Quiet Eye" technique help him? I would like to share this information with his team and other teams here in the county where I am a middle school teacher. Thanks for your assistance and for developing this wonderful technique!

Vickers' response:
We have just finished a study with ADHD boys in table tennis, which has some of the perceptual characteristics of baseball batting, as well as in fielding skills. In table tennis, the player has to track the ball early in flight in order to determine where it will be when it is hit by the racquet. Similarly in baseball batting, it is important to tell your son to really focus on the ball as it leaves the pitchers hand and during the first half of it's flight to the plate. Beyond this, it is too late to adjust the swing or make any corrections. In fielding grounders, similarly he needs to see the ball leave the hitters bat and during the first part of the flight toward him. Seeing the ball later is very difficult in both skills due to it's speed, but also seeing it late does not give him enough time to organize the skill correctly in his brain. In table tennis, we found that the ADHD boys had trouble tracking the ball for as long as age-matched controls. For this reason, they tried to see it later rather than earlier. I would suggest your son concentrate on the first part of the ball flight in both situations. He needs to see then, not later. If you would like more information on our work in ADHD, I can send you the research paper.

04/02/02 Jocelyn asks:
I coach girl's fast pitch softball (pitching speed: 40-45 miles/hr.) for 10-11 years old, and I get very frustrated trying to teach the girls to "watch the ball" when it is pitched to them. They think they are watching it, but most often they are looking at the pitcher up until the moment the ball is right in front of them. I think your "quiet eye", technique is fascinating, and I intend to try it with my pitchers, but I was wondering if I could use it with my hitters? Do you have any tips or suggestions? Thanks.

Vickers' response:
Hi Jocelyn, One exercise we use to help volleyball players see the ball while it is coming toward them on the serve is to put numbers on the ball and ask the player to call out the number before the ball is received. This drill is not new - it was actually performed by Ted Williams long ago. The drill causes the athletes to really see the ball and also tells the coach if they did see it. Our volleyball players got so good at this that we had to put two numbers/letters on the ball. We also moved the serve closer and had it come from behind a screen. Their % receptions went up from 62% to 72%, which in volleyball is very good.

04/02/02 Sally Leiner asks:
I play golf and tennis and I have what I call bouncy eyes. As I'm trying to make contact with the ball my eyes are bouncing and I don't know where they are looking. They have a mind of their own. What can I do to get "quiet eyes?" I would appreciate some information. Thank you.

Vickers' response:
"Bouncy eyes" are caused by the athlete not knowing where to look during a skill, so they try to see everything. In golf, first concentrate on where you want to hit the ball. Fixate that pointon the green or fairway for a 1-2 seconds. Then settle over the ball and keep you QE on the back of the ball at the point where the club makes contact with the ball. Be sure to "see" the green after the club has hit the ball for 1/2 second.

In tennis, the first part of ball flight is most critical. Be sure to see the ball as it leaves the opponent's racquet, as well as during first half of it's flight toward you. Note that in golf two gaze are needed and in tennis only one. This is what is meant by a quiet eye. You do not need to see everything - just the right thing at the right time.

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