In Part 1, we covered the illusory nature of vision and why having efficient search strategies are a critical factor for elite sports performance. In this Part 2, we will look at how peripheral vision techniques and training can be used to acquire greater situational awareness.
The Peripheral Dimension of Situational Awareness
At any given moment, the visible area available to an athlete is very large. However, the centrally focused part of this view is actually tiny. This means most information lies in the visual periphery. An example of an effective search strategy is to centralize gaze to an important point, such as an opponent with the ball, and also to pay attention players moving in the surrounding field of view. A key point here is that although the peripheral field of view is blurred, the brain can still detect and process motion well. This includes being able to track multiple things moving at the same time and in different directions (including across depth). Perhaps more importantly, the relative motion of our whole visual field is used by our brains to calculate own motion velocity, direction and changes in orientation (think of the beginning of Star Trek).
This means that although there is little of recognition of actual objects, there is a potentially very large amount of information flowing in regarding movement patterns going on around us, and our own movement in relation to our environment. In fast and dynamic scenes common in team sports, this influx of visual data is huge and can provide a vast amount information if we are able to process it.
Looking Without Looking
There is a caveat here. As we revealed in Part 1, when our focus point moves around vision becomes blurred and the visual centers of our brains actually shut down. It means the more we looked around, the less we see. This is why elite athletes learn to centralize their focus point to only what’s most critical and to move their focus point around less often. They then spread their attention to keep track of what’s going on across their peripheral field of view.
The net effect is less blurring and vision blanks in the heat of action, and a greater awareness of how play is evolving from moment to moment. When properly developed, this skill becomes an almost sixth sense level of awareness, allowing superior levels of tactical analysis and decision-making. It is also known to be a skill requiring conscious practice to master, and sports science shows that use of a ‘visual pivot’ can provide an effective training method.
Visual Pivot Training
A visual pivot is a technique that been shown to help athletes improve their peripheral vision and visual search strategy. It basically involves anchoring your focus to a specific point and then consciously paying attention to what’s going on around it. The idea is to centralize your gaze while spreading your mental attention. By practicing this technique, athletes can learn to channel their mental resources into processing complex movement patterns going on around them, providing a new sense of situational awareness.
NeuroTracker is a classic example of a training method which uses a visual pivot – the dot at the center of the screen.
In this case, the task of paying attention to the periphery is particularly challenging because it involves i) tracking multiple targets, ii) a wide field of view, iii) movement across depth (3D), and iv) the targets move at your speed threshold. This teaches you to spread your attention across the periphery even under intense mental demands. You can try a free demo in 2D here.
Boosting Peripheral Vision Abilities
Visual pivot training teaches the technique for effective vision behavior. However, it does not train up the mental muscle for actually processing visual information. Sports can deliver overwhelming payloads of information through an athlete’s peripheral field of vision. The good news is that the brain’s visual capacities can be trained to improve the amount of information which can be processed. The goal is to increase the brain’s bandwidth for vision so that more information in a sports scene can be perceived and understood at any given moment.
NeuroTracker 3D multiple object tracking training involves progressively overloading the brain’s visual capacities in the same way weight-training is used to build up strength. The difference is that neuroplasticity makes the brain much more responsive to training than our muscles. This is why an athlete will typically experience an increase of more than 50% in their visual processing capacities within their first 1-2 hours of distributed NeuroTracker training.
These gains continue to grow with training over time, with some NeuroTracker veterans boosting their visual processing capacities by over 400%, after completing hundreds of training sessions.
With this combination of efficient visual strategy and boosted visual capacities, any athlete has the potential to acquire a sixth sense level of situational awareness like top pros have.
If you missed our first part of this blog, you can read it here.
Also if you’re interested in just how much NeuroTracker can boost your visual processing capacities, check out this Expert’s Corner blog by Rob Gronbeck.
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