From the Super Bowl and the Final Four to the U.S. Open and Olympic Games, sports play a major role in our lives. Fans not only love the competition and rivalry, but also the personal triumph and athletic performance of their favorite teams and sports icons.
But before each game or match, athletes spend countless hours practicing to improve their games. They have coaches, sports psychologists, and nutrition experts to help them shape their performances, and now eye tracking technology can be added to that list.
According to Professor Aidan Moran and his team at the University College Dublin, eye movement reveals the complexities of cognitive thought at work inside the minds of sports winners. Moran completed a two-year sabbatical study titled, “Mental Practice, Eye-Movements and Cognition in Action,” from 2008-2009, which led to consulting roles with several of Ireland’s top professional sports teams – including the role of Official Psychologist to the Irish Olympic Squad.
Moran’s research found that eye movement, an involuntary action based solely on reaction, has a direct relationship to cognitive thought and that tracking eye movements can directly measure cognitive processes. According to Moran, studying the eye movements of those who win can potentially establish a baseline of eye movement indicators that can be used to predict success, help athletes train for success, and find any disconnect from success.
Fixations play a major role in the findings, and that is where the psychology comes in. Once researchers analyze those fixations (where the eyes, and therefore, the mind is focused), they can begin to understand how sports are played by athletes’ bodies, but won mainly in their minds.
As we watch the next big game, perhaps we can enjoy the competition on yet another level; the body is performing amazing feats of speed and skill, but there is a whole other world of competition happening within the quiet minds of the athletes.