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The Research

Our research team at the University of Exeter, led by Professor Mark Wilson and Dr Sam Vine, specialises in optimising the training of visually guided motor skills specialises in optimising the training of visually guided motor skills, so that they can not only be learned as quickly as possible, but also performed under pressure when necessary.

Our approach – developed with our research colleagues (Prof Joan Vickers, University of Calgary, Canada and Dr Greg Wood, Manchester Metropolitan University) follows three basic steps:

  1. We determine the attentional strategies of experts as they perform skills and work out the cues that they use to make decisions and guide movements (using eye trackers – See some examples here
  2. We then use this information to create videos that guide trainees to adopt the same eye movements.
  3. Rather than focus on controlling their limbs we ask trainees to focus only on what they look at as they practice the skills.

What do good catchers do?

Here you can see videos from two ten-year-old participants from our first study exploring throwing and catching performance in children.

These eye tracking videos help demonstrate the differences between what skilled and non-skilled participants do when performing tasks such as throwing and catching.

Notice how the skilled participant (top video) focuses their gaze (indicated by the red circle) at the wall before throwing, and then tracks the ball as it bounces before catching it. This steady fixation on the target before completing a task is what is known as Quiet Eye.

The second video is of a child diagnosed with DCD. In this case you can see that what they are looking at is unrelated to the information they need to complete the task. They don’t have a steady fixation to where they want to throw and they are unable to pick the ball up as it bounces. This has two implications: The initial throw is not accurate (they don’t look where they want to throw); and they are not close to catching the ball (they do not track the ball early and predict where it will end up, allowing their limbs to move in a way to intercept it).


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The importance of the Quiet Eye

Quiet Eye training, i.e. encouraging the participant to look at their intended target before acting, works because it reduces the overall cognitive load on the learner: They only have to control one thing – their eye movements – not try to coordinate multiple limbs. In this way we are effectively simplifying the task at hand. We have found that despite simply focusing on eye movements, children adopting Quiet Eye training are able to improve both their focus and their coordination.

This evidence based training resource was developed by the University of Exeter in conjunction with: