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Thread: Training Peripheral Vision
03-10-2010, 11:31 PM #1
Training Peripheral Vision
This is a Singles related question.
How do you train one's peripheral vision? I'm looking for drills. This is especially applicable to net play, and possibly mid-court shots. With peripheral vision, the hope is that you can sense where your opponent is, what he is doing, before you decide properly what shots you should use, instead of picking your shot without any regard of your opponent.
03-10-2010, 11:39 PM #2
This is also espcecially more critical in doubles, where there are less holes on the court to aim for.
I think it comes from playing experience in knowing where most players would stand or go to after they hit a shot. Then if you get to the bird early enough, you can sneak a peek at your opponent and maybe even wait for your opponent to commit himself first, then you can make your shot.
03-10-2010, 11:46 PM #3
'Field Sense' from Wired Magazine, Issue 15.06
Here is a long article about 'Field Sense' from Wired Magazine, Issue 15.06
============ start article ============
Contributing editor Jennifer Kahn
Wayne Gretzky-Style 'Field Sense' May Be Teachable
Photograph by Darren Braun
In the otherwise unremarkable1984 National Hockey League game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Minnesota North Stars, there are five seconds that Peter Vint will watch over and over. The star of this sequence is Wayne Gretzky, widely considered the greatest hockey player of all time. In the footage, Gretzky, barreling down the ice at full speed, draws the attention of two defenders. As they converge on what everyone assumes will be a shot on goal, Gretzky abruptly fires the puck backward, without looking, to a teammate racing up the opposite wing. The pass is timed so perfectly that the receiver doesn't even break stride.
"Magic," Vint says reverently. A researcher with the US Olympic Committee, he collects moments like this. Vint is a connoisseur of what coaches call field sense or "vision," and he makes a habit of deconstructing psychic plays: analyzing the steals of Larry Bird and parsing Joe Montana's uncanny ability to calculate the movements of every person on the field. "In any sport, you come across these players," Vint says. "They're not always the most physically talented, but they're by far the best. The way they see things that nobody else sees it can seem almost supernatural. But I'm a scientist, so I want to know how the magic works."
Athleticism is impressive but essentially prosaic, a matter of muscle. But vision is something else, something more elusive. Opponents struggling to anticipate Gretzky's next move often became disoriented, like hunters who think they're tracking a leopard, only to hear a twig crack directly behind them. The experience was so unnerving that players who had to face Gretzky repeatedly exhibited a kind of automatic dread. Describing the feeling in a 1997 Cigar Aficionado interview, former St. Louis Blues goalie Mike Liut said woefully: "I'd see him come down the ice and immediately start thinking, 'What don't I see that Wayne's seeing right now?' "
Such talent has long been assumed to be innate. "Coaches tend to think you either have it or you don't," Vint says. Unlike a jump shot or a penalty kick, field sense which mixes anticipation, timing, and an acute sense of spatial relations is considered essentially untrainable, a gift. Gretzky himself once fuzzily described it as having "a feeling about where a teammate is going to be. A lot of times, I can just turn and pass without looking."
But Vint rejects the notion that Gretzky-style magic is unteachable. Before taking a job at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado in 2005, he spent several years consulting for NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, assessing the design of complex automated cockpits and looking for things that might cause pilot error. "In the cockpit, indicators will go off, and the pilot has to detect and interpret them depending on what mode the automation is in," he explains. That ability, Vint believes, has something in common with passing a puck. "They're both about taking in, processing, and reacting to complex information," he says.
Vint knows that the skill he calls "perceptual ability" develops, in part, to help a physical underdog against bigger, stronger players. If you can anticipate a throw, you don't need to be as fast. If you can intercept a pass by predicting its trajectory better than your opponent can, you don't need to be as big. Steve Nash, the point guard for the Phoenix Suns, famously never dunks but passes so brilliantly that he has been voted MVP two years in a row. Gretzky was always the runt of his team: small, slow, cursed by a soft shot, and so skinny one commentator cracked that "he could wear a fur coat on Halloween and go out disguised as a pipe cleaner."
"Growing up, I was always the small guy," Gretzky has said. "I couldn't beat people with my strength. My eyes and my mind have to do most of the work."
As Vint saw it, Gretzky-like field sense was rare not because it was mystical but because no one had bothered to understand it and train for it. Then he discovered Damian Farrow. A scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport, Farrow worked with Olympians and national athletes. But unlike the coaches Vint knew, who tended to focus on physical skills, Farrow had been hired specifically to study and teach perception. If his methods struck Vint as unusual Farrow once had the women's basketball team watch game clips through 3-D glasses and simulate playing and passing in them that only made their success more surprising.
"When I found Damian's work, I realized that this is how you could understand a player like Gretzky," Vint says. Farrow had statistics. He had answers. "He was taking a look behind the curtain of this magical thing."
At 37, Farrow has the wiry, tanned appearance of the agelessly fit. A competitive tennis player into his early twenties, he continues to look the part, oufitted in shorts, a crisp white polo shirt, and an oversize black digital watch. A deliberate and cerebral athlete, he was not especially quick a weakness that rankled him. So Farrow decided he would get better at anticipating his opponent's shots.
He began cataloging other players' tendencies and eventually began to make connections between a rival's posture and racket position and a particular return. Perversely, though, Farrow found that the more he concentrated, the worse he played. "I was thinking so much that I couldn't react naturally anymore," he admits with an awkward laugh. "I got that 'paralysis by analysis.' "
Later, as a PhD candidate in human movement at the University of Queensland, Farrow began to suspect that the learning process needed to be unconscious in order to work. "Top tennis players can predict the direction and speed of the ball before it leaves the racket," Farrow says. "So what is it these experts intuitively see that the rest of us don't? What cues are they picking up on, and when?"
To understand what experts were seeing, Farrow meticulously dismantled the mechanics of the serve. He recruited two groups of players novices and experts and outfitted each with earmuffs and occlusion goggles, clear glasses that turn opaque when an assistant on the sidelines flips an electronic switch. He then put the athletes on court opposite an expert server. As the server's arm went back for the shot, Farrow would black out the goggles, leaving players to swing blindly at the incoming ball.
The experiment was not for the faint of heart. Even relatively gentle serves arrived at 60 miles per hour, battering receivers who happened to step into the shot. "The men in particular got uneasy," Farrow says dryly. He pulls out a faded photo of a man in tennis whites, standing in the ready position and peering through an oversize pair of plastic lenses. "You can see that he has a nervous grin on his face."
Great tennis players can tell from the angle of a server's arm where the ball will go. Novices generally don't have that skill. But they can learn it.
Photograph by Darren Braun
The point of the exercise was to identify exactly when a seasoned player knew where the ball would head. Farrow established five possible windows: First, he blackened the goggles just as the ball's flight path over the net was determined; second, as the server's racket made contact with the ball. Then he gave players less and less information cutting off the image when the server's arm was cocked, as it was being drawn back, and, finally, at the very start of the toss.
Not surprisingly, receivers were better at guessing the ball's direction the later their vision cut out. But the results also revealed something more interesting. Graphs of the amateurs' reactions showed that they could anticipate where the ball would go only if they witnessed the racket making contact with it. Experts knew what would happen roughly a third of a second earlier, when the server's cocked arm was still unfolding.
What happened in that fraction of a second? A lot, Farrow reasoned. Up to a point, he theorized, the direction of a serve was fundamentally unpredictable: Whatever clues existed weren't ones that an opposing player could discern. By the time the ball had been hit, on the other hand, even a novice could make a plausible guess at its trajectory. What separated the pros from everyone else was the ability to pull directional information out of the early stages of a swing and therefore to predict a split second earlier where to head. This fraction of time is game- changing. A serve going 120 miles per hour takes approximately a third of a second to travel the 60 feet from baseline to service line. This means that an expert, who doesn't have to wait until contact, has twice as long to move, plant his feet, and swing.
This discovery fit with something Farrow and other tennis researchers had already suspected: Reflex speed is not the key factor in returning a serve. "People have tested casual players and experts, and their reaction times are essentially the same," Farrow says. The fact that Roger Federer can drill back a 140-mile-per-hour serve is partly a matter of muscle control. But it's also about processing subtle visual cues to predict where the ball will go and get to the right spot.
None of this was enough to make Farrow the hero of the clubhouse. Proving that anticipation mattered was one thing. The big question was, could it be taught? Farrow wanted to try, but he would be careful to not make the same mistake he had made with himself. He instructed some of the players from each group not to worry about predicting the direction of the serve but, instead, to focus on estimating its speed. The exercise was intended to force receivers to notice things like the angle of the racket head and the twist of a server's shoulders relative to his hips all kinematic cues that also contribute to a serve's direction. Best of all, the connections would happen unconsciously. "It's called implicit learning," Farrow says. "We're getting them used to watching for the right stuff, things like more-spin-equals-less-speed, but they don't even know that they're doing it."
Using the goggles, Farrow then tested the speed-prediction group against one that had been traditionally coached on service returns and another control group that had received no coaching. At the end of the day, the players who'd been told to predict the ball's speed showed a small but significant improvement, anticipating the serve correctly an extra 5 percent of the time. More startling: The traditionally coached group didn't improve at all.
The difference was small, but it came quickly. After finishing his PhD in 2002, he applied for a job at the Australian Institute of Sport. "I wrote them a letter saying, 'You don't have someone like me, and you should,' " he says. "To their credit, they agreed."
Visiting the AIS campus is a bit like going on athletic safari. Located in the thinly forested hills of Canberra, the sprawling complex hosts roughly 300 athletes of various talents and physiques, from rangy national team basketball players to compact Olympic swimmers. On a summer morning after a thunderstorm, the sandstone cobbles are steaming and the air is warm and sharp with the antiseptic smell of gum trees. As I make my way to Farrow's office, a small herd of cyclists sweeps by, veering like gazelles around two large statues (a soccer defender slide-tackling a forward; a ponytailed gymnast braced in a handstand).
Farrow's department is headquartered in the Sports Science and Medicine building, one of many on campus that flies the lightning-bolt flag of the Republic of Gatorade. The office he meets me in is tidy to the point of desolation the sole personal effect a toy Chicago Bulls basketball hoop stuck on one side of an enormous filing cabinet.
Since coming to the AIS, Farrow has turned into a one-man band of perceptual training, transferring his tennis experience to volleyball, basketball, cricket, and other sports. It's the culmination of an idea that originated 50 years ago, when a psychologist named Clarence Damron flashed slides of defensive plays at high school football players and then tested their ability to identify the maneuvers from the sidelines. Students who had watched the slides were better at guessing correctly, leading Damron to conclude that a boy could learn to be a lineman the same way he learned chemistry: by memorizing which elements and conditions led to a particular reaction.
Damron's experiments sparked some interest but never really caught on. "It was mostly academics interested in the theory," Farrow says. The methods were also crude, not immersive or immediate in a way that reflected gameplay. Sometimes, players got better at the tests responding more quickly to flash cards and recognizing simulated patterns but it was never clear whether they brought those improvements to the field. For coaches hoping to get an edge, perceptual training was like a promising rookie who choked when he got in the game.
Even now, the few people who do try to train vision often don't bother to figure out which skills are crucial. Several Major League Baseball teams, for instance, subscribe to a program known as vision therapy. Players are tested and trained on how quickly they can respond to arrows and dots flashing across a screen. But when an elite player like Albert Pujols and a non athlete are tested on their ability to identify flashing lights, Farrow says, they end up performing about the same. "That means it's not a talent that's separating the best from the rest."
Because of this, Farrow spends a lot of time simply trying to determine what it is experts see that amateurs don't. Among other things, he uses an eye-motion tracker to record where virtuoso players are looking during clutch situations, such as when passing under pressure from multiple defenders coming from different directions. He pulls up a videoclip from an Australian rules football practice that he conducted with the Adelaide Crows, a professional team. The game is essentially football crossed with rugby, and players advance the ball by kicking it to teammates. As the play unfolds, players break left and right. One runs very visibly up the middle.
Onscreen, a crosshair flits around. This is the darting sight of the Crows' kicker: a zigzag that covers the field, with minute pauses at key moments, like when he's assessing the openness of a potential receiver. Farrow's frame-by-frame analysis compares where good and bad kickers look and for how long. "We want to know, at what points are the experts doing something differently? When are they looking somewhere that the less skilled players aren't?"
Farrow has found that players who make poor decisions tend to glance at targets, rather than pausing on them. They're also more drawn to motion. "In a lot of team sports, you're attracted to the area of greatest movement," Farrow says. "But just be-cause there's a person running fast and waving his arms doesn't mean he's the best person to kick to."
Farrow has created a video database of hundreds of critical decision-making moments, which he projects life-size onto a blank wall at the Crows training center. Players watch the simulations, which are from the point of view of the kicker, and "pass" the ball to the player they think is in the best position literally kicking it at the wall. Farrow got his idea from Bruce Abernathy, a former University of Queensland colleague who, in the early '90s, conducted similar exercises for racket-based sports like badminton and squash. On average, Farrow says, a typical footballer will get 5 to 10percent better choosing the best receiver an extra one time in 10 though some have improved their game even more.
Learning these skills is difficult, however particularly for older players with established habits. So Farrow is also thinking about how young athletes can develop field sense before their coaches make them believe it's impossible to acquire. To figure that out, he recently began interviewing elite players about their early life in sports. One factor is backyard games, or what Farrow calls unstructured play. Playing soccer with 30 other kids in a dusty village plot turns out to foster the kind of flexible thinking and acute spatial attention that pays off in high-level competition.
"We should be modeling our programs on that," Farrow says emphatically. "And what do we do instead? We put children in regimented, very structured programs, where their perceptual abilities are corralled and limited." Farrow recently made a poster of Wayne Gretzky and gave it to several AIS coaches. The Great One, he points out, spent thousands of hours scrimmaging with friends and neighbors on the homemade rink behind his family's house.
Although perceptual training has yet to sweep professional sports, the idea is gaining traction with a handful of US coaches and their colleagues. In a recent meeting with the US Olympic volleyball staff, Vint found himself listening to a performance wish list that included the ability to respond to jump serves coming in at high speeds. Vint asked the coaches what they thought the problem was. Were the receivers erratic, indicating a problem with motor skill? Were they getting screened by other players on the court? No, the coaches agreed, the problem was that the receivers weren't reading the trajectory of the ball fast enough to get in position. Like tennis players, they needed to improve their ability to interpret early cues.
If all goes well, Vint will start working with the US women's Olympic volleyball team this year and then expand to the men's team. He believes that better perception has a multiplier effect, giving players more time to concentrate on their execution and, in some sports, even helping them avoid the collisions that cause injury. Vint has also been collaborating with the national youth development arm of USA Hockey, devising a program that uses goal-cam footage to help goalies anticipate which quadrant (right, left, high, low) the puck will end up in. For now, Vint has made the exercise virtual because he can't risk a goalie taking a puck in the throat. But ultimately, the goalie may be wearing goggles and playing blind like Luke Skywalker in Jedi training.
That's not his only project. Vint mentions a two-time Olympian who recently began training in a new sport, the modern pentathlon. "She's great at swimming and running," Vint says. "Decent at shooting and equestrian. But in fencing, she's terrible." Being a good fencer means being able to read subtle cues from an opponent's body and foil position something fencers normally pick up over years of practice. A perceptual- training program, Vint theorizes, could accelerate that learning curve, transforming his protιgι from zero to Zorro.
On the last evening of my AIS visit, I watch a volleyball team practicing attacks: setting the ball, then hammering a spike down on opposing blockers. The reverberating balls in the nearly empty gym create a constant, explosive cacophony. David Ferguson, one of the team's more powerful hitters, is an enormous 25-year-old in bright blue shorts with a frighteningly large rump. When he spikes the ball, it sounds like a cannon going off.
Last fall, the volleyball team worked on spike defense using the occlusion goggles for six weeks, cutting out the view just as the ball was hit. Knowing that you are going to lose sight of a large ball traveling 80miles an hour in your general direction has a remarkably concentrating effect, says 19-year-old Will Thwaite, a lanky 6'10" blocker. Like the rest of the team, Thwaite practiced with the goggles two or three times a week. "I think it helped," he says. "When I played before, I mostly just reacted. But when you get to this high level, the ball travels so fast. You really have to anticipate." As I watch, one of Thwaite's teammates blocks a close- quarters Ferguson spike at the net so solidly that the ball boomerangs back at an astonishing speed.
Thwaite's coach, meanwhile, has added another twist. Since the players are getting better at reading serves, he has also quietly begun teaching servers how to hide their intentions.
Inexperienced volleyball hitters tend to telegraph their hits, says Vint, who has puzzled over these issues with Farrow: "If they're doing a quick set in the middle, they may stiffen their arms. If it's a back-set, they'll arch their back before the ball arrives."
The result has been a kind of athletic arms race, the ability to read shots driving a corresponding need for better fakes. When I point this out to Vint, he seems pleased. Like any advantage, perceptual training will likely upset the existing balance. But eventually things will even out. "In the long run," he says confidently, "I think the level of play will go up."
Maybe, but it's still a long way from awkward occlusion goggles to the effortlessly accurate no-look pass. Here in Australia, though, there's a sense of how this kind of training could change sports one skill at a time. Magic, after all, is just a collection of steps executed artfully. And while Gretzky may be hockey's Houdini, there's a lot to be said for starting out with some simple sleight of hand.
============ end article ============
03-11-2010, 12:32 AM #4
Hi Chris, while the article is interesting, I think I'm looking for something somewhat different. The article is more about, e.g., figuring out if your opponent would play a clear/drop/smash, straight or cross-court.
What I'm talking about is, when you're approach the net, you've a choice of playing an attacking lift or a net drop, straight, or cross-court. If you can get information about your opponent, that he is rushing in, but still far away, then you can safely play a net shot, despite your required large margin for error. But if he is close enough to catch your shot high (to push the shot pass you), then it'd be safer to lift (albeit an attacking lift).
If you can do this, you'd also be able to avoid forcing yourself to reduce your margin of error to an unsustainable level, even under a circumstance that doesn't require it. Only if you know better.
With this peripheral vision, your shot selection accounts for the presence of a competing opponent, as opposed to a solo act.
I hope I'm making my question clearer now. I actually know what results I want. Just how do I train for it.
03-11-2010, 12:42 AM #5
To try to paraphrase what I previously said in a different way -
Chris's article is about predicting your opponent's shot (possibly with deception).
My question is after seeing and getting to the shot, how do you get the information to help you decide for your own choice of shots, possibly with your own deception. My understanding is, in applying deception, you'd need something like peripheral vision to figure out if you should continue with your faked motion, or change your shot to a completely different direction.
03-11-2010, 12:54 AM #6
Practice, practice, practice.
And experience, lots of play time. Preferably playing and learning from someone who's good at anticipating and faking shots.
In any situation, there are only a few shots that can be played. So, depending on where he's hitting it from, there are only a few shots to anticipate. Eg. you drive to his backhand corner - you'll know to be ready close to the net for a drop or mid court kill.
Likewise, after he hits a shot to you, if you get to the bird early enough, you'll have a short window of time to sneak a peek at his bearing while your mind is thinking of shot selection. By experience, both he and you know that there are only a few shots that can be played, so either you fake a shot or wait for him to commit himself before you hit your shot.
Being always consciously aware of his bearing and your choice of shots at all times will get you points. However, your footwork has to be fast enough to get you to the bird in order for you to sneak a peek at him.
03-11-2010, 06:24 AM #7
It's certainly something *I* also have to work on, at the moment it's one of the areas that keep me back the most (getting pretty good on the running and hitting part).
It does not matter how fast I run as long as I play my shot smack on his waiting forehand simply because I was not aware where he stands at the moment.
Normally, I'd say it should be easy - just do a quick look-see immediately before hitting. But this does not work for me, at least not subconsciously, at least not yet.
Maybe you are right insofar as with lots of practice, practice, practice everything else (running, hitting, etc.) becomes so automatic that you can literally look elsewhere all the time (i.e., at the opponent). But I have my doubts. Intense practice simply reinforces the things you practice, so we need the *correct* practice for this specific aspect (hence the question of the OP).
This evening, I'll try to consciously look away from the shuttle before hitting, and at the opponent instead. Let's see what happens... maybe I'll miss lots, or I'll just forget to do it, or maybe it will just work.
03-11-2010, 10:37 AM #8
I think there are two things that are very important.
First of all, you need to be aware of what your eyes are looking at. Try doing a drill where, instead of focusing on what you're doing, pay attention to where your eyes are looking. We often focus so much on doing, that is sending information out from bodies, that we ignore or disrupt the information going into our bodies.
Pick a drill, and just be aware of what you can see and what is in your field of view. Sometimes, in the back court, you might realize that you can't see the net or opposing side. Your ability to play offensive shots into open spaces will be limited in that situation, so this means you have to position yourself to get a better view - further back in the court.
The second thing is to learn to trust your automatic, instinctive decisions. This is difficult for most people, since most like to think about things, make their own decisions, do their own actions. However, many top performers can "let it go" and just play, and end up making much better decisions on court. Another thing is, with pressure and stress, perception becomes more narrow and you get a "tunnel vision" effect. Those with a steadier mind will tend to avoid this.
03-11-2010, 10:43 PM #9
I have never thought of or taught players to train what you wish to learn
Last edited by chris-ccc; 03-11-2010 at 10:46 PM.
03-11-2010, 11:21 PM #10
May I suggest playing first person shooter video games?
It would train both your peripheral vision and reflexes.
03-11-2010, 11:36 PM #11
It seems you'd have a decision to make in that split second, and you'd need information. How do you get that piece of information if you don't use peripheral vision?
03-11-2010, 11:38 PM #12
However, while I think it might help sensitize my vision, the action as a result is not badminton specific.
03-12-2010, 12:00 AM #13
Plus, if I looked at where I'll be shooting then he'll be able to easily predict where I'll put it, so quite often I'll look one way but shoot the opposite direction. Of course, this means I have to be spatially aware of the court and such.
Does that make sense?
Last edited by visor; 03-12-2010 at 12:04 AM.
03-16-2010, 09:22 AM #14
peripheral awareness training
Strictly speaking, peripheral vision cannot be improved. It's peripheral awareness that athlete's can train.
Peripheral awareness is skill, which, like any skill, can be improved with deliberate practice.
A whole feature on peripheral awareness training was recently completed by SportsVisionmagazine (sportsvisionmagazine.com). They have about a dozen drills used in various sports.
It essentially comes down to separating your central vision from peripheral vision -- rods and cones. We rely less and less on peripheral vision/awareness in our daily activities, so this is a skill that cannot be developed without specific drills.
03-16-2010, 09:46 AM #15
03-16-2010, 09:55 AM #16
03-16-2010, 10:03 AM #17
The sportsvisionmagazine.com site requires paid subscription in order to access the articles. I'm wondering if anyone has actually subscribed to it and find it to be helpful? Coach13? Thanks!
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