Several researchers have examined the potential of training perceptual skill in sport. Williams et al. (23) suggested that perceptual training programs should not only highlight expert search patterns as models of performance but also include tasks that contribute to the development of the knowledge base underpinning effective visual search behaviors. Moreover, research in the area of perceptual training suggests that cognitive interventions that develop the knowledge base underlying skilled perception have more practical utility in facilitating the acquisition of expert performance than clinically based, visual skills training programs (27). In fact, researchers have shown that experts do not possess superior visual skills than novices per se (1,2,8,22). In this article, we design and implement a training program to improve the efficiency of both the gaze and the motor behaviors of international-level skeet shooters.
Williams and Grant (24) and Williams et al. (27,28) have provided detailed and critical reviews of research related to perceptual training. These reviews have highlighted the potential of such programs while at the same time identifying shortcomings in the literature. For example, several researchers have failed to include a placebo group and/or a control group; therefore, any improvements in performance observed in these studies may be due to conformational bias or increased familiarization with the task rather than the intervention itself. Furthermore, suitable transfer and/or retention tests have not been adequately used to examine whether training facilitates performance in real-world contexts or if any improvements manifest themselves during an extended period. Moreover, although the literature base focusing on perceptual training is not extensive, there have been hardly any attempts to use such training methods to try to improve performance in aiming tasks such as shooting.
The quiet eye (QE) is a gaze behavior first reported by Vickers (19) during an investigation involving national-level basketball players performing the basketball free throw. When compared with their less-expert counterparts, expert free throw shooters used significantly longer preparation and impulse phases of the shot and generated a greater frequency of fixations during the execution phase compared with their near-expert counterparts. Furthermore, the duration of final fixation before initiation of movement was significantly longer in the expert compared with the less-expert players. Vickers termed this final fixation on the target during the preparatory phase of movement the QE period. The QE period is defined as the final fixation or tracking gaze that is located on a specific location or object in the visuomotor workspace within 3° of visual angle (or less) for a minimum of 100 ms. The onset of QE occurs before the final movement of the task, and the offset occurs naturally when the gaze deviates off the location or object. During this period, the performer is thought to set the final parameters of the movement to be executed. The key principle is that QE duration is proposed to be associated with the amount of cognitive programming required for successful aiming to a target (25).
The QE period has been shown to be a characteristic of higher levels of performance in a variety of sports-related contexts, including when aiming at a fixed target (7,9,13,14,19-21), at moving/abstract targets (4,5,18,25), during interceptive timing tasks (3,12,26), and when engaged in tactical tasks (11). Moreover, experts have constantly exhibited both earlier onset and longer QE duration than less-expert performers in various tasks including tennis (16), ice hockey goaltending (11), shotgun shooting (4,5), the volleyball service return (3,12), basketball free throws (19), baseball batting (15), biathlon shooting (21), and dual-task auto racing (10).
Causer et al. (4) were the first researchers to assess QE in the sport of shotgun shooting. Previously, researchers had focused predominantly on self-paced static aiming tasks or tasks where objects approach the participant. Causer et al. (4) conducted a detailed analysis of the subdisciplines of shotgun shooting to assess gaze behavior and kinematic differences between elite and subelite shooters, as well as successful and unsuccessful shots. The elite shooters, in all three shotgun disciplines (skeet/trap/double trap), exhibited significantly longer QE durations and an earlier onset of QE compared with their subelite counterparts. Participants exhibited longer QE durations and an earlier onset of QE in successful compared with unsuccessful shots. The elite shooters demonstrated a more efficient gun barrel motion, as characterized by smaller gun barrel displacement and more efficient timing strategy. In the current study, we extend this original work by examining the key variables that mediate elite performance in shotgun shooting to see if they can be enhanced using a systematic QE-based training program. Thus far, and despite the significant growth in research on QE, few researchers have attempted to apply this new knowledge to improve performance on aiming tasks.
Adolphe et al. (3) were the first to examine whether QE could be trained by developing a 6-wk training program with the intention of improving visual search behaviors and performance accuracy in a group of elite volleyball players passing to the setter area. A training program was designed in which athletes received video feedback in relation to their gaze behavior followed by five training sessions on court. These sessions consisted of viewing their vision-in-action data and participation in a progression of exercises designed to improve QE tracking and performance, such as tracking a tennis ball or detecting the ball coming from behind a barrier. In the vision-in-action paradigm, gaze and motor behaviors are recorded simultaneously as tasks are performed in situ, enabling researchers to objectively determine which characteristics are associated with successful and unsuccessful performances (18,19,25). After a 1-month gap from training, all athletes had an earlier tracking onset and improved their tracking duration. In addition to improving their QE characteristics, several other skills, which were not overtly trained, improved, such as a decrease in step corrections and moving into a correct position more quickly. Although these researchers identified the potential of QE training in sport, there were several limitations to the work. These included a small sample size (only three receivers were included from before to after the analysis) and the lack of a placebo or control group; improvements in gaze behaviors were therefore difficult to attribute solely to the visual training program.
Harle and Vickers (7) conducted a similar training intervention investigating the effect of training QE in basketball free throws. University-level basketball players received QE training during two seasons compared with a control team that received no training. The QE training involved video modeling and feedback to help the athletes develop the same QE focus and motor control observed in elite performers. During the sessions, athletes were shown their gaze behavior on video, which was then compared with that of an elite model. Athletes were also given a preshot routine to follow while undertaking the free throw task. The participants in the experimental group improved their free throw accuracy by more than 22%, and training QE led to a more economical visuomotor routine, as demonstrated by a longer duration of QE, a more stable QE on one location, and a faster shot movement time. These results highlight the potential effectiveness of QE training programs not only for improving gaze behaviors but also in aiding self-organization of the skill without direct coaching. However, although control groups were involved in the study, only the intervention group participated in the pretest and posttest measures of gaze behavior. Therefore, any improvements in gaze behavior may have been due to familiarization, alternative coaching strategies, or several other factors.
In the current article, we aimed to address limitations in previous efforts to improve QE behaviors in aiming tasks. We used a relatively long training period compared with those used by the majority of researchers in this area. This extended period provided more time to accurately determine the effects of the training intervention. Another novelty was the measurement of performance in situ in the pretest and posttest, significantly increasing ecological validity. In the majority of previous studies, researchers have only identified individual variables to measure training effects. In this article, we consider performance more holistically, using a variety of measures including visual gaze, kinematics, and shooting accuracy. The inclusion of a control group allowed for direct comparisons to be made across groups, enabling strong, reliable conclusions to be drawn. The addition of an empirical measure of skill transfer by comparing shooting scores before and after intervention enabled us to explore whether any observed improvements transfer to the competitive arena. Finally, we wanted to examine the efficacy of this type of intervention with truly elite, international-level athletes to identify whether perceptual training can lead to performance improvements at the highest level, potentially differentiating between "podium" and "nonpodium" athletes.
The QE duration and onset, movement kinematics, and shooting accuracy were measured before and after training. Shooting accuracy scores were also recorded for the three competitions before and for the three competitions after the training intervention to provide a measure of transfer to real-world environments. We hypothesized that QE durations would increase in the perceptual training group compared with the control group and that an earlier onset of QE would be evident. These predictions were based on the results of Harle and Vickers (7) and Adolphe et al. (3). As a result of these improvements in QE duration and onset, we hypothesized that shooting accuracy would significantly improve in the training group compared with the control group. A more marked improvement in shooting accuracy during competition in the perceptual training group compared with the control group after intervention was predicted. Since Adolphe et al. (3) reported a change in motor behavior as a result of quiet eye training, we hypothesized that any improvements in QE may indirectly organize the motor behaviors of the training group creating a more efficient task-related movement pattern. Specifically, on the basis of the data from Causer et al. (4), it was predicted that smaller horizontal gun barrel displacement on shot 2, lower vertical gun barrel variability on shot 1, and lower absolute peak velocity on shot 2 would be evident in the training group after intervention. No changes in kinematics were expected in the control condition.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
A sample of 20 international-level skeet shooters with a mean age of 24.5 ± 4.4 yr and having accumulated an average of 6.7 ± 1.5 yr of experience in shooting competition provided written informed consent before participation. The shooters were assigned to groups based on their initial performance on a pretest into one of two ability-matched groups of equal numbers. A group of control participants (n = 10) completed a pretest and a posttest only. The training group (n = 10) underwent an 8-wk intervention consisting of eight training sessions and three video feedback sessions. All shooters reported normal or corrected-to-normal visual acuity. Participants used their own personal shotguns and normal shooting attire. All participants were required to follow the rules of the discipline during data collection, as stipulated by the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF). Participants were free to withdraw from testing at any stage and approval for the study was gained via the local ethics committee of the lead author's institution.
The visual search behaviors used by participants were recorded using a mobile eye corneal reflection system (ASL Mobile Eye II; Applied Science Laboratories, Waltham, MA). The mobile eye system uses a method known as "dark pupil tracking" where the relationship between two features, the pupil, and a reflection from the cornea are used to compute point-of-gaze within a scene. The mobile eye has a system accuracy of 0.5° visual angle, a resolution of 0.10° visual angle, and a visual range of 50° and 40° in the horizontal and vertical planes, respectively.
Gun barrel kinematics.
Video data were collected to calculate the coordinates of the gun barrel to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the shooting action. Two Cannon XM2 digital video cameras (Cannon, Tokyo, Japan) sampling at 50 Hz and with a shutter speed of 1/150 were used. The cameras were positioned 4.0 m in front of the shooting station at an angle of 50° relative to the center of the range with one camera on the left side of the range and the other on the right at a height of 0.9 m. The cameras were connected to a central computer by two extended fire wire cables. The shutters were synchronized using a signal sent from the central computer. The cameras filmed simultaneously during each shooting trial. The shooting area was calibrated using a 12-point, three-dimensional frame (1.25 × 1.15 × 1.15 m3).
Pretest and posttest.
In the pretest and posttest, the mobile eye system was calibrated using nine points in the environment at the same distance as the clay flight. The calibration was conducted in situ while participants were in their "normal" shooting stance. The participants were positioned on the skeet range at station 4 to shoot the double target, shooting the high target first, and were required to shoot 15 pairs (30 shots in total). We collected data using the mobile eye system for the entire duration of the test session and accuracy of the calibration was checked periodically. The video cameras were activated to record the movement and the outcome of each shot. An intertrial interval of 60 s was used.
Protocol for training QE.
During each session, participants in the perceptual training group were guided through a four-step routine consisting of the following:
- Stand at the station with the gun in the hold position (in a location you are able to replicate with little variability) and where there will be minimum horizontal gun barrel displacement; rotate your head toward the high tower, and direct your gaze to a suitable target pick-up point position.
- Using your normal routine, when ready, call for the targets.
- Direct eye focus to the first target as quickly as possible and track the target continuously until you pull the trigger. After the execution of the first shot, become visually aware of the second target and direct your eye focus to it. Continually track the target, making sure that the target is in visual focus before shooting.
- Use a stable and consistent gun motion throughout the task, trying to keep the gun barrel at a constant velocity with no periods of high acceleration.
The routine was developed and refined after personal communications with several high-level ISSF-qualified coaches. The routine was reinforced in the training environment, with the shooters using the approach under both "dry" (without ammunition) and "live" (with ammunition) shooting practices. In both of these training environments, and throughout the intervention period, participants were asked to follow the four-step routine on each shot.
On weeks 1, 3, and 6, both groups received a 30-min video feedback session of performance, along with an example of an "expert shooter." The participants in the perceptual training group received feedback on their QE characteristics in relation to the expert model. The video feedback involved outlining the need for earlier target detection and a prolonged period of tracking to accurately program an appropriate response action. This strategy was enforced by comparing the onset of QE and QE duration on successful and unsuccessful trials and then comparing these to the expert model. The expert model chosen had previously won medals at both Olympic Games and World Championships during a 15-yr period and was ranked number 1 nationally at the time of data collection. The expert shooter demonstrated efficient and consistent gaze behaviors in conjunction with high shooting accuracy. During this session, they viewed videos of "hits" and "misses" from their pretest (week 1) and from the previous weeks training for weeks 3 and 6. A total of five hits and five misses for each participant were viewed, along with 10 expert trials. Differences in QE were identified and explained. The participants in the control group received videos of both their performances and that of the "expert shooter" without any feedback or instruction in relation to QE characteristics. Participants in the control group were involved in "normal" training for the same amount of time as those in the perceptual training group were undertaking their intervention and received the same number of trials during the acquisition phase. After the experiment period, and as part of a debrief, members of the control group were offered the same training intervention.
All participants were tracked before and after intervention to enable competition scores to be recorded and compared. Scores from the three competitions directly before and after the training intervention were gathered, a combination of both international and domestic competitions. All of the competitions were within 2 months of the training intervention. A standard competition consists of five rounds of 25 targets each, making a total of 125 shots (scores in finals were not recorded). As a measure of transfer, we recorded mean percentage accuracy scores across all three competitions before and after intervention.
Because of the high frequency of success on the first target, analysis of the second shot was deemed to be more relevant. Altogether, 10 shots (five hits and five misses; both randomly selected from the sample) were identified for each shooter for further analysis on both the pretest and the posttest. The visual search data were analyzed frame-by-frame using Gamebreaker (Sportstec, Camarillo, CA) software. The mean QE duration and onset were analyzed. The onset of QE was defined as the time from the trigger pull on shot 1 until the gaze stabilizes on the second target and the tracking gaze is initiated. The QE duration was measured as the continuous tracking gaze from onset of QE to trigger pull on shot 2. The eye movements were logged manually from the video recordings, and QE characteristics were determined by frame counts. The objectivity of the eye movement data was established using intraobserver (98.8%) and interobserver (97.9%) agreement methods. Altogether, 12% of the data were reanalyzed to provide these figures using the procedures recommended by Thomas et al. (17). For kinematic analysis, the video files were imported into the SIMI Motion 6 (SIMI Reality Motion Systems, Unterschleissheim, Germany) analysis software. An average calibration error of 0.54% of screen size was found; SIMI software recommends an error range between 0% and 3% for accurate analysis. The gun barrel marker was manually tracked in both video recordings for five frames before the initiation of the movement, and the following five frames after the completion of the shot were digitized.
After running a logistical regression analysis on data from Causer et al. (5), three main kinematic variables were seen to be consistently more efficient during successful shot outcome: horizontal axis displacement on shot 2, absolute peak velocity on shot 2, and vertical variability on shot 1. The QE period and onset of QE were the main foci of the training program. However, the kinematic variables were measured to see if gaze behavior could indirectly influence motor behavior.
A separate two-way, mixed-design ANOVA was used to analyze each of the main dependent measures with group (control and training) as the between-participants factor and test (pretest and posttest) as the within-participants factor. The effect sizes were calculated using partial eta squared values (ηp 2) and Cohen d as appropriate. The α level for significance was set at 0.05. If the sphericity assumption was violated, the Huynh-Feldt correction was used.
There was no significant main effect for group, F 1,18 = 0.409, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.02. However, there was a significant main effect for test, F 1,18 = 9.815, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.35, and a significant interaction between group and test, F 1,18 = 28.562, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.61. Shooting accuracy improved from pretest (62.8% ± 16.8%) to posttest (66.2% ± 15.5%). The interaction effect showed that the performance of the control group did not change significantly from pretest to posttest (d = 0.06), whereas participants in the perceptual training group significantly improved their accuracy during the training period (d = 0.54). The findings are presented in Figure 1.
Transfer to competition.
There was no significant main effect for group, F 1,18 = 3.434, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.16. However, there was a significant main effect for test, F 1,18 = 14.407, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.45, and a significant interaction between group and test, F 1,18 = 8.603, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.32. The competition scores significantly improved from pretest (90.0% ± 3.4%) to posttest (92.9% ± 3.7%). The interaction effect showed that the performance of the control group did not change significantly from pretest to posttest (d = 0.21), whereas participants in the perceptual training group significantly improved their competition scores during the intervention period (d = 1.73). The findings are presented in Figure 1.
There was no significant main effect for group, F 1,18 = 3.120, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.15. However, there was a significant main effect for test, F 1,18 = 12.580, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.41, and a significant interaction between group and test, F 1,18 = 14.729, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.45. Longer QE durations were evident in the posttest (411.0 ± 26.8 ms) compared with the pretest (396.9 ± 22.6 ms). The interaction effect demonstrated that the control group's mean QE duration did not change significantly from pretest to posttest (d = 0.04), whereas the training group significantly improved its durations during the training period (d = 1.20). The findings are presented in Figure 2.
Onset of QE.
There was no significant main effect for group, F 1,18 = 3.199, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.15. However, there was a significant main effect for test, F 1,18 = 11.761, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.40, and a significant interaction between group and test, F 1,18 = 16.257, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.48. An earlier onset of QE (250.6 ± 14.9 ms) was reported on the posttest when compared with the pretest (257.6 ± 10.9 ms). The participants in the control group QE did not change significantly the time of onset of their QE from pretest to posttest (d = 0.11), whereas the participants in the training group significantly improved their durations during the training period (d = 1.20). The findings are presented in Figure 2.
Displacement of gun shot 2 (horizontal axis).
There was no significant main effect for group, F 1,18 = 1.462, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.08. However, there was a significant main effect for test, F 1,18 = 34.888, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.66, and a significant interaction between group and test, F 1,18 = 21.462, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.54. A smaller gun displacement was evident on the posttest (0.081 ± 0.02 cm) compared with the pretest (0.094 ± 0.02 cm). The control group's mean displacement distance did not change significantly from pretest to posttest (d = 0.15), whereas the intervention group significantly decreased its gun barrel displacement during the training period (d = 0.65). The findings are presented in Table 1.
Absolute peak velocity for shot 2.
There was no significant main effect for group, F 1,18 = 0.286, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.02. However, there was a significant main effect for test, F 1,18 = 10.133, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.36, and a significant interaction between group and test, F 1,18 = 12.252, P < 0.01, ηp 2 = 0.41. Lower peak velocities were observed on the posttest (0.85 ± 0.08 m·s−1) compared with those on the pretest (0.88 ± 0.07 m·s−1). The control group's peak velocity did not change significantly from the pretest to the posttest (d = 0.05), whereas the intervention group significantly decreased its peak velocity during the training period (d = 0.63). The findings are presented in Table 1.
Variability of gun barrel shot 1 (vertical axis).
There were no significant main effects for group, F 1,18 = 0.524, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.03, test, F 1,18 = 1.022, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.05, or the group × test interaction, F 1,18 = 1.014, P > 0.05, ηp 2 = 0.05.
We attempted to develop a perceptual training program to improve the efficiency of both gaze and motor behaviors in elite, international-level skeet shooters. We hypothesized that, as a result of our video-based intervention, the training group would increase the duration of its QE period and have an earlier onset of QE when compared with the control group. These modifications to gaze behavior would promote an extended period for motor programming and arousal control, increasing the probability of a successful outcome. Therefore, as a result of these improvements in QE duration and onset, we hypothesized that shooting accuracy would improve significantly in the perceptual training group compared with the control group. Furthermore, on the basis of the results from Adolphe et al. (3), it was predicted that any improvements in QE may indirectly organize the motor behaviors of the training group creating a more efficient movement pattern.
As predicted, participants in the perceptual training group significantly improved their QE durations and used an earlier QE onset on the pretest compared with the posttest. However, the control group showed no improvements in either of these gaze characteristics. These data reinforce the results reported by Harle and Vickers (7) and Adolphe et al. (3). The current study, however, extends the research into a previously unknown area of perceptual training, using an external target that is required to be intercepted by an external object in a movement that is externally paced. The inclusion of a truly elite sample extends previous research and demonstrates that athletes at the very highest level of competition can use perceptual training programs to increase performance and develop more efficient motor behaviors. These findings have important implications for the coaching of elite athletes in many sports and, potentially, for performers in other domains requiring effective eye and limb coordination, such as in arthroscopic surgery or in factory-line assembly tasks. In the current study, we used a relatively long training period compared with that used by most other researchers in previous studies. This extended intervention period allowed more time to accurately determine the effects of the training intervention and, along with the measurement of performance pretest and posttest in situ, provides a more representative replication of the training environment than used previously in similar training studies.
Previously, researchers examining gaze behaviors in shotgun shooting have shown longer QE periods to be linked to higher levels of shooting accuracy (4,5). Moreover, expert shooters have been reported to demonstrate both an earlier QE onset and a longer QE duration. It has been suggested that an earlier onset of QE enables shooters to process information about the flight of the clay earlier than the subelite shooters. This finding suggests that elite shooters are better at anticipating the release of the clay and attending to the most critical cues to initiate the correct response. As a result of the temporal constraints inherent in clay-target shooting, participants should detect the clay early and then track it in an uninterrupted manner before pulling the trigger. This earlier onset, combined with a prolonged QE duration, provides the expert shooter an extended period both for motor programming (goal-directed control) and for optimal arousal control, minimizing the effects of erroneous environmental cues (stimulus-driven control) (6). The longer QE enables shooters to more accurately process the trajectory, direction, and speed of the clay in relation to the gun barrel before selecting the correct response characteristics. The ability to train this perceptual skill could potentially have substantial implications for how motor skills are taught, learnt, and trained at all levels from "grass roots" up to international athletes.
Alongside the more efficient QE characteristics, we hypothesized that shooting accuracy would increase from pretest to posttest in the training group. As predicted, the training group significantly increased shooting accuracy from 63% in the pretest to 77% in the posttest (d = 1.08). The control group, however, did not significantly improve shooting accuracy from pretest (63%) to posttest (61%) (d = 0.11). These results support data from Harle and Vickers (7) where basketball players improved their performance accuracy by 11.98% during one season, and by the end of the second season of training, this improvement had increased to 22.6%. These results show the potential improvement that can be made in performance during a prolonged period of training. The results in the current study show significant improvements after an 8-wk training period. Additional work is needed to examine whether an extended intervention period and incorporating this training it into a larger training macrocycle could lead to even larger gains in performance.
In most previous studies, researchers have only identified individual variables to measure training effects. In this article, we looked at performance more holistically by recording many measures of such as gaze, kinematics, and shooting accuracy. In terms of the kinematic variables measured, there were significant changes exhibited by the perceptual training group. From pretest to posttest, the perceptual training group significantly decreased its gun barrel displacement and absolute peak velocity on shot 2, although variability of the gun barrel on shot 1 was not significantly altered. These results illustrate that, although no direct training of the shooting technique was prescribed, the trained shooters exhibited a more efficient gun movement on the posttest compared with the pretest; this improvement was not seen in the control group. The importance of these variables in relation to performance in shotgun shooting was examined in a study by Causer et al. (5). The authors concluded that a smaller gun displacement along with the lower absolute peak velocities results in a more efficient gun motion, with no periods of high acceleration, as well as a more stable shot. The current study shows that by training QE, with a combination of video feedback and simple shooting routine, significant positive modifications to shooting technique can occur indirectly.
Adolphe et al. (3) reported similar findings after a 6-wk QE training program that focused on ball tracking in volleyball. The athletes were shown video feedback of an "expert" model of gaze behaviors, similar to the current study, alongside five "on-court" training sessions. After the QE training, all the athletes had an earlier tracking onset and had improved their tracking duration, as well as some movement behaviors that were not overtly trained, including corrective steps and positioning. The authors concluded that knowing how to improve gaze and attention aids the self-organization of the skill without direct coaching of the motor behavior. Harle and Vickers (7) reported that QE training altered the relative timing of a basketball free throw, leading to the conclusion that a cognitive intervention precipitated the change in shooting mechanics. These results highlight the potential effectiveness of such training in focusing gaze and attention to key areas to enhance motor efficiency. This phenomenon requires further research to understand the mechanisms by which this indirect "coaching" manifests itself and how the role of visual behavior interacts with this change in motor behavior. These findings may ultimately change how certain tasks are coached and trained with the importance of gaze behaviors in learning motor tasks significantly increased.
The inclusion of a control group, which was matched with the intervention group for training volume, allows direct comparisons to be made across groups. The results provide strong evidence that QE training led to a significant improvement in shooting accuracy during the training period. It is important to note that, even with the videos of the expert model and feedback of their own shooting, the participants in the control group failed to improve on any of the variables measured. The current study also included a strong measure of transfer from the training environment to real-world competition. Unfortunately, the ISSF does not permit any nonstandard equipment to be worn during competitions. Therefore, we were unable to capture the transfer of either QE characteristics or kinematics in the competition environment. Nonetheless, we were able to gather information on shooting accuracy from both domestic and international competitions. This information enabled us to ascertain whether any improvements in shooting accuracy were successfully transferred into the real competitive situation. The results indicated significant pre- to postintervention improvements for the training group only. It therefore seems that the improvements in performance observed on the posttest transferred to the competitive arena.
Our results show a large discrepancy between performance scores in training (65.8% ± 16.2%) and competition (91.5% ± 4.3%). In this study, we only used station 4 on the shotgun range, shooting a pair of targets; this is widely regarded as the most difficult scenario in the round. During competition, shooters take shots from a series of eight different stations and shoot at single targets; these "easier" scenarios increase the performance accuracy in the competition rounds. The ISSF does not provide data for each station independently of the overall score on each round of shooting. Consequently, we were unable to access performance data in competition that emerged from station 4 only, so potentially the training improvement may be larger than suggested by our current data. Overall, our findings illustrate the potential benefits that may be gained by integrating perceptual training programs into the training regimes of elite-level athletes.
In summary, we report significant improvements in visuomotor control after an 8-wk intervention program, as indexed by an earlier onset of QE, a prolonged QE duration, and more economical gun barrel displacement and absolute peak velocity. The QE characteristics were successfully modified within a group of elite, international-level shooters. More importantly, however, these modifications led to increases in shooting accuracy from pretest to posttest and in a measure of transfer involving a comparison of shooting scores in competitions from before to after intervention. These findings have implications for those examining the role of attention and gaze orientation in the organization of motor performance. In a more applied setting, the results identify several potential avenues for improving coaching strategies, including early gaze behavior training and video feedback to enhance performance.
The authors thank the financial support of British Shooting as well as the cooperation of the Kuwait Sport Shooting Federation and advice offered by its Technical Director of Shooting and coaches during data collection.
The results of the present study do not constitute endorsement by the American College of Sports Medicine.