From college football bowl games to the Super Bowl itself, this time of year is filled with games for sporting fans. The NBA is in full-swing, too, and March Madness is just around the corner. As spectators, we enjoy watching athletes use their highly-tuned skills to play games and win. But there is more going on, behind the physical feats of skill and strength.
When faced with the pressure of the world’s eyes upon you – not to mention the acute self-imposed pressure athletes of this caliber surely face – how does one shoulder the burden in a way that prevents it from oppressing his or her talent?
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 winners, like those who compete for Olympic Gold. 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 athlete’s bodies, but won mainly in their minds.
As we watch the our favorite sports throughout the year, perhaps we can enjoy the competition on yet another level; the body is performing high-flying, incredibly fast and tough feats on turf, court, snow, and more, but there is a whole other world of competition happening within the quiet minds of the athletes.