June 16, 1999 Writer: Kristin Harmel
Source: Robert Singer -- (352) 392-0584
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- When it comes to games such as pool and darts, people with the quietest eyes will play the best, a University of Florida researcher has concluded.
Robert Singer, chairman of UF's department of exercise and sport sciences, and former graduate student Shane Frehlich said a player's key to success lies in the "quiet eye phenomenon," that is, how frequently and for how long a player is able to fixate on a specific location.
The strategy also is useful in golf putting, archery and basketball free throws -- anything that involves focusing on a target and lining up a shot, Singer said.
In their tests, Singer and Frehlich found pool players who had the longest quiet eye duration -- those who focused the longest on meaningful objects such as a cue ball and the target ball -- before shooting were the most successful with their shots, Singer said.
Singer also found that the more experienced and highly skilled players made fewer fixations on the cue ball and target ball than novice players, but each fixation lasted longer.
"The really good pool shooters have learned to focus longer on what they needed to do," Singer said. "They've learned more economical and efficient visual search strategies."
Singer and Frehlich performed their tests with 24 pool players, half of whom were highly skilled and half of whom were casual players. Each was fitted with an infrared eye-tracking system that monitored eye-movement patterns while a player was in the shot-preparation phase -- when the players were positioned over the cue ball until the just-observable movement toward striking the cue ball, when the backswing began.
"People who are attempting to master a target task need to fixate on a relevant cue or cues for a long enough duration," Singer said. "Those who have the ability to control their eye movements by focusing on a certain location are the ones who have the most success."
Bruce Baker, the league and program assistant of the Billiard Congress of America and a head referee for that organization since 1995, said Singer's research may have a big effect on the sport.
"It's just real exciting," Baker said. "Anything we get in these kinds of studies is going to be real significant. We've really never had anybody who's done this before."
The use of a five-step strategy that Singer developed also should improve success rates among pool players, Singer said. The steps, which Singer said can be used with most sports, are: readying, imaging, focusing, executing and evaluating.
The readying, or preparatory, state puts the player in the optimal mental/emotional condition. Imaging involves creating an internal picture of the intended act and accomplishment. Focusing attention calls for blocking out internal and external distractions and focusing on the most relevant cue. Executing is the performance of the task with a quiet mind -- "letting it go," and evaluating calls for a player to assess how everything went in order to make improvements in the future, if necessary.
"The five-step strategy for stationary targets emphasizes the focus on a meaningful external cue," Singer said. "The better a player can focus, the fewer the distractions, the better he or she will perform."
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