Basketball: how to improve accuracy

The Quiet Eye: Improving One’s Free Throw Accuracy with the Quiet Eye Technique

The free-throw shot, also known as the foul shot, is one of the many ways to score points in a basketball game. It is a vital component of the game and players should make it a standard part of their practices as anybody can be fouled during a game and hence have to make a free-throw shot. One of the methods discovered, in increasing free-throw accuracy, in recent years is the ‘Quiet Eye (QE)’ technique. In addition to basketball, literature has also been published on the efficacy of the QE technique in different sports skills (e.g. Putting in golf, kicking a soccer penalty).The QE technique has shown to be a characteristic of elite athletes in a variety of sports such as golf, basketball, volleyball, rifle shooting, table tennis and ice hockey (Brown, 2007) . The QE technique has shown to be effective and relevant to the various sports and thus should be incorporated, where possible, into many more. This review will look into the credibility of the QE technique, the differences between the elite and the amateur’s use of the quiet eye, the development of the quiet eye technique, how anxiety affects the quiet eye technique and the necessity of the quiet eye technique in enhancing free throw accuracy.

The credibility of the Quiet Eye technique

The QE technique has shown to be useful in a variety of sports. One would understand the doubts if it were only used in one sport or two, but truth is, that it is and has been used in a variety of sports. One of many examples – Vine, Moore, & Wilson (2011) found that the putting performances of elite golfers improved when under pressure and in competition, after the intervention of a brief QE training.

Besides the visible and physical results which can be measured, neuroscience and cognition theory believes that the brain has billions of neurons that have to be organized in order for us to perform motor skills optimally. QE provides the information that the motor system needs, to get organized (Posner and Raichle, 1994). Sports psychology believes that information given by QE puts the athletes in focus more often hence reducing uncertainty, ambiguity and fear (Vickers & Williams 2007). Cognitive-physiological facilitation, also known as the Setchenov phenomenon (1905-1935) states that more physical work can be done when attention is focused externally than internally (Wulf, McNevin, & Shea, 2001). This is a major bonus to athletes, as looking inwardly can more often than not cause unnecessary anxiety and too many uncertainties which could affect the athlete’s performance. The QE technique is not something that was
created out of the blue. According to Brown (2007), Joan Vickers, one of the foremost authorities on sports vision, found that elite athletes in almost all sports, whether they know it or not, use their eyes quite differently than less skilled athletes. The concept of being “in the zone” or “in complete control” has been around for many years further adding value to the QE’s reliability and its need to be taught to players.

Duration of fixation on the hoop between elite and non-elite basketball players In addition, vision is equally important for the co-ordination of movements for our body. The brain
needs to organize more than 100 billion neurons and these neural networks are informed by your gaze, which in turn controls your hands, arms and body as an action is performed (Vickers, 2007). It was found that elite basketball players fixate their eyes on the hoop for an extended amount of time as compared to their less-skilled counterparts (Ripoll, Bard, & Paillard, 1986; Ripoll, Papin, Guezennec,Verdy, & Philip, 1985; Vickers, 1992). Similarly, the extended gaze control, QE, has also been demonstrated to have a positive effect on the accuracy (Vickers, 1996; Oudejans, van de Langenberg, & Hutter, 2002; Oudejans, Koedijker, Bleijendaal, & Bakker, 2005). Thus the QE technique, which is already a practiced characteristic by these elite basketball players gives them an advantage over non-elite players or players who do not use the technique. This only adds to the notion that if elite players use the technique and it enhances their performance, would it not then enhance the capabilities of normal players? Especially considering that the development or training of the quiet eye is not an extensively arduous or rigorous process.

Development of the Quiet Eye technique A form of the QE training program involves watching video models of elite athletes and getting video feedback of their own “gaze behavior” to help athletes develop the same QE focus and motor control used by world-class athletes (Vickers 1996). After the video feedback session, the 3 step QE routine was taught (Vickers, 1996 a, b, c):

1.    Take stance at line with head up and direct gaze to hoop.
2.    Hold ball in shooting stance and maintain QE focus on a single location on the hoop for
approximately 1.5 seconds.
3.    Shoot with a quick, fluid action.

The simplicity behind the training enhances the possibility that more players can benefit from the QE technique. Even without the technological equipment, the basic instructions of QE can still be taught and practiced.

The effects of anxiety on the Quiet Eye technique Despite the simplicity of the QE, there are factors that can affect it negatively. Anxiety is a condition commonly felt by athletes during competitions. Coaches are often frustrated by their athletes’ inability to perform under the influence of anxiety. Eysenck and Calvo (1992) suggested that when performers are feeling anxious, the processing and storage ability of the working memory is compromised, hence resulting in a reduction in attention resources which leads to poor on-court performance. Williams, Vickers and Rodrigues (2002) reported that the state of anxiety can cause a reduction in quiet eye duration which could affect the accuracy of a free-throw shot. This could be one of the reasons as to why low free- throw percentages exist even at elite levels. This finding is found to be consistent with the study conducted by Wilson et al. (2009) to find out whether anxiety has influence on visual attention control. However, quiet eye training is still an important component that cannot be overlooked while planning for training as statistics show that basketball players trained in the QE technique have shown improvement in their shooting accuracy during basketball matches (Harle & Vickers, 2001).

The necessity of Quiet Eye technique in enhancing one’s free-throw accuracy Official statistics from the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1999 presented an average accuracy of 75.08% in free throws on a team level (National Basketball Statistics, 2000). However the individual’s percentage of free throw accuracies ranged from 40% to 90%. The low range of 40% suggests that there are areas for improvement even at elite levels. As free-throws can be vital in winning matches, one dimension to improving the accuracy can be the training of the QE. During a basketball free-throw, the performer is required to coordinate the visual information collected by visual search and arm movement so as to pull off the necessary movement effectively. Harle and Vickers (2001) reported that incorporating quiet eye training with regular basketball training routines resulted in significant improvements of free-throw shooting accuracy by 22.62%. This suggests that QE training can and does have a significant impact on the levels of free-throw accuracy. This finding is found to be consistent with the other studies that are of comparable nature (Frehlich et al., 1999; Vickers et al.2000).

Conclusion 

The QE technique has shown to be effective and relevant to the various sports and thus should be
incorporated, where possible, into many more. It has been shown to be credible and reliable in its testing and in the results. Furthermore, teaching this technique is not extremely difficult and can be done with or without equipment, thus making it a very viable option for coaches. Even though anxiety has been shown to affect the duration of the quiet eye thus making it difficult to perform under pressure, Vine et al. (2011) showed that despite the effects of anxiety, QE training still resulted in the QE-trained golfers putting more holes than non-QE trained golfers. So there is a possibility that the QE, though affected by anxiety, may still benefit a free-throw shot. After all, QE training showed to be extremely beneficial in improving one’s free-throw accuracy as shown by the improvement of 22.62% in Vickers’ study.

Though QE training has shown to be beneficial, much of the studies have been done with athletes at elite levels or athletes who have come of age physically and biologically. Future studies could therefore explore whether QE training would enhance the skills of athletes at the secondary school levels (ages 12 – 16 years). In addition, further research could be done in exploring if anxiety does affect the basketball player’s free-throw shot and if QE training can improve the accuracy of the free-throw shot even under anxiety.

Written by:
Ranald Joseph s/o Rajakanthan 
Leow Zi Xiang Zac
Tan Shunde

University of Western Australia

Published by

Zac

Sportsman Scientist Husband Victorian

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