When you’re a pro tennis player, keeping your “eye on the ball” isn’t just an inspirational motto, it’s also, like, the only way to get from “love” to “game.” Over the past few decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have found that the idiom reflects a visual-perception technique called “quiet eye” that athletes like Serena Williams use to ditch distractions and hone in on their next move. And, praise the sports gods, because you can totally replicate it in your next workout class.
In a 1992 study published in Perception, sports-science student Joan Vickers (now a professor at the University of Calgary) started the “quiet eye” convo after she noted a significant difference in her athletic performance on a day-to-day basis, reports BBC. Suspecting that the perfect combo of consistency and performance might have something to do with eye movement, Vickers rounded up a group of golf players and used a device to monitor their eyes as they tracked the ball. Sure enough, experienced golfers were more likely to hold consistent eye contact with the ball than their more novice comrades, who tended to have shifty gazes.
The technique has since been studied further in depth and has been observed beyond the golf green in activities like volleyball, archery, hockey, and more.
Honing in visually on a physical goal actually helps the brain to suppress distracting stimuli and go to its quiet, happy place.
Additional research has uncovered that steady eye control of elite performers indicates that they actually slow their minds during the crucial moments of focusing on their target. This is because honing in visually on a physical goal helps the brain to suppress distracting stimuli and go to its quiet, happy place, according to a 2016 article from Current Issues in Sport Science. What’s more, exceptional athletes give one extra beat of complete focus on the object of their physical goal before making the throw, blocking a shot, or scoring a goal—a magic moment that separates them from newbies. In fact, sports pros like Williams have been found to hold their gaze for about 62 percent longer than their less experienced counterparts.
So whether you’re a member of an organized sports team or you prefer to get your heart racing on the treadmill, there’s a huge takeaway here: Just like you’ve heard your yoga teacher say a thousand times about crow pose, you’ve got to find that “drishti”—AKA, focal point—and keep your eyes on it. Who knows? Maybe doing so will help you win the US Open and ace your vinyasa practice.
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