UF Researcher: Deep Focus And Steady Aim Are Key To Making The Shot

Published: October 5 1999

Category:Education, Florida, Research, Sciences

GAINESVILLE — An expert target shooter looks through his sight and pauses, focusing on the tiny target 50 meters away. The bull’s-eye is just 10.4 millimeters in diameter, regulation size for the Olympic smallbore rifle event. The shooter pauses for a moment, steadying his body, quieting his mind, focusing on the target. Will he hit the bull’s-eye?

He should if he can block out all outside influences and focus on the target for several seconds before firing, according to a study by Christopher Janelle, an assistant professor in the University of Florida’s department of exercise and sport sciences. University of Maryland professors Charles Hillman, Ross Apparies and Brad Hatfield also participated.

It sounds simple, but Janelle’s research has shown that experts in a particular sport, such as shooting, wait longer after focusing on their target and are able to quiet the left side of their brain –which sends analytical messages that interrupt deep concentration — much more effectively than less-experienced participants.

The results of Janelle’s research are so important in the way that we view self-paced sports that he’s been invited to speak to the U.S.A. Shooting National Coaches College — the group that will instruct the U.S. Olympic shooting teams for the 2000 Olympics — at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., this October.

In fact, you too should be able to improve your ability to respond accurately through coordinating the period of intense concentration on a target and the duration of the time you fixate on the target before you respond, Janelle said. Any skill that is self-paced and involves focusing on a target — such as playing basketball, pool or volleyball — can be improved by this one-two punch of focusing and pausing.

“This is a very robust finding,” Janelle said. “This isn’t just about aiming, it’s about dwelling. You’re giving yourself a better chance to respond correctly if you look at the target longer and block out other mental reactions.”

Janelle and his colleagues did the study using 25 target shooters, 12 of whom qualified as experts based on the number of competitions they had participated in during the previous year. Two factors were tracked and measured in all of the shooters: quiet-eye duration, or the length of time between the shooter’s final focus on his target and the initiation of the shot; and brain wave activity, which compared the level of activation of the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Janelle found not only that the more-successful shooters focused longer on their targets, but also that the experts had much higher levels of alpha waves in the left hemispheres of their brains, which means their analytical thought processes had been temporarily suppressed. That allowed them to focus much more clearly on a visual target.

“Across the various sports that have been examined, experts have traditionally shown a longer quiet-eye period,” Janelle said, “But in this study, we’ve shown that it’s apparently connected to more favorable brain wave characteristics.”

While expert shooters in Janelle’s study had a quiet-eye period of 12 seconds, nonexperts focused for only eight seconds. In addition, using brain wave monitoring equipment, Janelle found a significant difference between the alpha wave patterns of the left and right hemispheres of the brain in expert shooters while he found no significant difference in nonexperts.

“This will give us a better approach to execute a specific shot,” said H.Q. Moody, the national shooting coach trainer for the National Rifle Association and a participant in Janelle’s study. “It’s something that we expected, but this is an important validation. Once the fundamentals are learned, then shooters can learn to use their brain in the correct way, and we’ll have something more specific to focus on in teaching.”


Kristin Harmel
Christopher Janelle

Category:Education, Florida, Research, Sciences