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Eyes Down

Eye-tracking technology used to hone new Irish sport stars

Turns out ‘keeping your eye on the ball’ is not necessarily the best way to up your game…

RESEARCH AT University College Dublin is uncovering the secret brain processes of star sportspeople which make them so successful.

Professor Aidan Moran of the UCD School of Pyschology says that his team of scientists are harnessing their discoveries and packaging them in order to advise sports psychologists and coaches on the best methods to help their clients improve their performance.

Eye trackers have been in use in sports science and psychology research at UCD for the past decade but they have become much more powerful in recent years. Prof Moran said:

We use those eye trackers to look at the differences between expert sportspeople and beginners in order to find out what’s going on in their mind as they look at something. The eye tracker gives us a pattern of fixations that the eyes display.

But the psychology begins when we start analysing those fixations to see the knowledge that lies behind them. Sport is played by the body but won mainly in the mind.

It is the mental process that “distinguish expert sportspeople from beginners” that is the source of study.

Watch former tennis pro Conor Niland in the video below, using the tracking technology here as he watches video of a tennis match. Professor Moran shows that Niland’s eye lands in a completely different spot from that of an amateur player. The amateur player literally keeps their eye on the ball – Niland’s eye is on a point on the court, anticipating the position of his opponent.

(The blue markers denote where the amateur player’s eye lands; the yellow is where the eye of a professional ‘hits’.)


UCDInnovation / YouTube

 The hope is that analysing the mental patterns of professionals like Niland, scientists can evolve better training techniques for coaches and sports psychologists to use with clients in all sorts of sports. The research has also discovered that judging slopes on the green is a particularly important skill to hone for golfers.

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