Table tennis

It is argued that when an athlete performs a prolonged final fixation prior to and during a strike, it enables them to gather relevant information to carry out the subsequent move, focus, and eliminate distractions. This strategic glance has been dubbed quiet eye (see Vickers, 2007), and its effect has proven to be particularly valuable in stressful segments of a game. Quiet eye is being introduced in athlete training in a range of sports to peak performance through improved concentration and reduced stress. Despite its popularity, the mechanism underlying quiet eye is still not fully understood, and many aspects of the phenomenon have yet to be examined.

The background

Previous literature established the effects of quiet eye during the execution of isolated motor tasks. However, it remains unknown whether the same effects are observable in dynamic sports situations.

Table tennis provides an ideal platform for controlled experimental manipulation in a dynamic context with high levels of ecological validity because the athlete’s movements are limited to approximately two meters, and relevant visual information is gathered only from the space in front of the player.

This context inspired Ph.D. candidate Andrada Vincze to examine the quiet eye phenomenon with the help of the Romanian youth national table tennis team, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Dragos Iliescu at the University of Bucharest.

Tobii Pro Glasses 2

The method

To capture their eye movements, Vincze equipped players from the top twenty in the national ranking with Tobii Pro Glasses 2. The lightweight design of the glasses, coupled with wireless connection, allowed participants to perform their tasks as usual. The robust accuracy of the glasses enables systematic recording of eye movements. The athlete’s stress level was evaluated by measuring their heart rate variability.

Two studies investigated the effects of fatigue and stress during the multiball exercise — where the coach rapidly launches balls, and the athletes try to correctly return as many as possible. In the first study, experimental manipulation was introduced through coach feedback — inducing stress with negative feedback on the athlete’s behavior, or providing no comment on performance. The second study investigated the athlete’s performance at the beginning and the end of a multiball exercise — measuring the effects of fatigue, as well as the manipulated task complexity.

 

The conclusion

The insights gathered on eye movements showed that quiet eye indeed assists accuracy in the dynamic interceptive table tennis environment — successful strokes were associated with longer quiet eye in all conditions. Moreover, both stress and fatigue led to shorter quiet eye and more mistakes while striking the ball. However, even under stress, successful ball strikes were accompanied with longer quiet eye showing that better performance under stress is indeed coupled with stable quiet eye.

We congratulate Andrada on the two publications that have so far resulted from this work, and the first prize at the 16th European Congress of Sport and Exercise Psychology, organized by the European Federation of Sport Psychology in Padova, Italy (July 2022).