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Book Notes – The Quiet Eye In Action (J. Vickars)

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

“The Quiet Eye in Action: Perception, Cognition and Decision Training.” Joan N. Vickers, University of Calgary

[The following are my notes on the above book by Joan Vickers, and is not an article or original work. I have attempted to glean the relevant information from the article and interpret it for clay target shooters.]

This book is a fascinating study of the visuomotor system and how an athletes’ control of their visual “gaze” as they execute sports activities can determine success or failure in the particular discipline. Of particular interest to clay target athletes is the portion of the text that describes how the elite athlete recognizes, tracks and controls moving objects in sports activities and the difference in characteristics of the fixated gaze on moving objects by elite athletes vs. “near-elite” athletes. The researcher used sophisticated “mobile eye trackers” with both elite and “near-elite” athletes participating in a variety of sports like volleyball, baseball, cricket and table tennis to detect and monitor the points of visual focus throughout a sports activity. There was no study of Shotgunning, only rifle and pistol shooting, yet there are significant parallels between the research on moving-target and intercept-timing tasks and clay target sports. Key conclusions… The gaze of elite athletes on the moving objects as compared to “near elites” was:

-Longer -Initiated sooner -Held later and closer to action/intercept event

-Was more constant from acquisition through fixation and action (void of distraction) -Involved a brief interval of head stabilization prior to interception.

Additionally, elite athletes held their eyes in a different / more relevant place than the near elites (e.g. Volleyball serve – at the hand of the server vs. ball top of arc) in order to acquire the “target”


-Visual Pick-up point is incredibly important in order to acquire the target earlier thus lengthening the UNDISTRACTED “gaze time” on the target. (One qualification here however…too long a gaze will degrade the quality of the focus)

-Lengthening of Gaze Time is measured in milliseconds so, this research does NOT imply or suggest that we “ride” targets…. as the gun in the face presents an opportunity for “distraction”. What is critical is that we, as clay target athletes, have an interval of uninterrupted and intentional visual “fixation” as the gun move through the breakpoint. Additionally, if we were to “ride” a target to the breakpoint, the cognitive process becomes “top down” instead of “Bottom-up” cognition (conscious execution vs. subconscious execution).

-The research seems to imply that clay shooters should apply intense visual fix on the target early and hold it through the breakpoint as elite athletes were found to do on other moving objects (Hockey pucks, volleyballs, etc.). But we also know that…

-The head (as well as the gun and hands in the case of Shotgunning) should be free of “turbulence” just prior to executing the shot. All elite athletes utilized “head stabilization” just prior to execution. For shotgunners, this means that keeping the head still is critical. Shooters must bring the gun to the head instead of bringing the head down to the gun as the shot is executed.

Other facts:

-Visual acuity occurs in a 2-3 degree area of the visual field. (Thumb width when the arm is outstretched in front of you.) If you are focusing on the WHOLE target, instead of a PIECE of the target, the shooter will tend to engage his/her peripheral vision.

-“Gaze” is the fixation of the eyes on an object or location within 3 degrees of visual angle for 100ms (0.1 seconds). This is the minimum amount of time needed to recognize or become aware of stimuli. For both fixation and tracking, a total of a minimum 180ms is required to see an object AND initiate movement. ONLY when the eyes are fixated on an area or location within 3 degrees of visual field for longer than 100 mms can the individual process the information provided by that object or person necessary to initiate action.

-Saccades (or saccadic movement) — eye movement from one fixated location to another. The human eye experiences an average of 3 saccades per second ranging from 60 to 100 ms.

**Information flow to the brain about an object is suppressed during blinks and saccades or periods when the eye is not fixated.

**Fovea-small area of the retina at the back of the eye where images are reflected / inverted for transmission to the brain. When we engage our sharp focus or intense focus on an object. The imagery projected onto and captured by the fovea is critical information for feeding the brain the information necessary for precise interception of the object.

**Ambient system- area of the retina (outside the fovea) specialized for motion, the rapid detection of information, and for low light situations. Ambient system is very useful for producing accurate limb movements for short durations (no more than 100ms to 150ms), however, for longer movements the ambient system is unable to process the information…. so the focal system must then take over and exert cognitive control of the situation. So, in detection and pursuit tracking activities of longer than 150ms, the focal system AND ambient system must work together…. the ambient system to perceive and initiate movement and the focal system to take over tracking and coordinated movement in excess of 150ms.

For more information, there is another great article written in 2009 by Joe Causer et al specifically on Skeet, Trap and Double Trap that continues Vickars’ work into the shotgunning field.

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