When practicing jump shots, including a defender is an effective strategy to increase the difficulty of the skill. It also means that practice better simulates the demands of a match.
As evident when watching professional basketball, some players are better than others at adapting to the presence of a defender. Why is this so?
There might be a handful of reasons; but one key reason might be related to where the player looks when shooting the ball.
Quiet Eye is a phenomenon that refers to the duration of the final fixation prior to executing a skill. In basketball, a longer quiet eye is consistently associated with better shooting accuracy. However, most of the studies that have investigated quiet eye in basketball do not include a defender applying pressure to the player shooting the ball.
So, what happens to the Quiet Eye when a defender applies pressure?
Mariëtte Maarseveen and Raôul Oudejans asked 13 talented youth basketball players (average age = 16 years) to perform 24 jump shots in 2 conditions:
- A contested situation (i.e., a defender applying pressure)
- An uncontested situation (i.e., no defender applying pressure)
Players wore eye tracking glasses whilst shooting the ball. This allowed the researchers to measure where the players were looking when performing the task.
When performance was averaged across all 13 players, shooting accuracy did not decline in the contested condition. Players adapted to the contested situation by shooting faster, jumping higher and propelling the ball with a higher trajectory.
However, further analysis revealed that 6 players did perform worse when a defender was applying pressure. For these 6 players, it was found that their final fixation towards the rim of the basket (i.e., quiet eye) started later (relative to ball release) and was shorter.
Take home message
The authors summarized the results succinctly: “Players whose final fixations on the basket were affected in duration and timing showed a decrease in shooting accuracy, while players whose final fixations were unaffected did not show a decrease performance”.
Coaches should therefore explore strategies to train quiet eye whilst a defender is present.
Van Maarseveen, M. J., & Oudejans, R. R. (2018). Motor and gaze behaviors of youth basketball players taking contested and uncontested jump shots. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.