Basketball - Eye Focus Research for Foul Shots

Basketball - Eye Focus Research for Foul Shots

Dick Moss

Basketball coaches often instruct foul shooters to focus on the target until the ball goes through the hoop. However, research has indicated that it's more important to focus the eyes before the shot than during the shot itself.

Fixing the eyes on the target before the shot is called the Quiet Eye technique (or location-suppression) by the researchers. They defined it as the "last acquisition of target information before the shooting movement was initiated."

The researchers identified a Quiet Eye pre-shot routine that can improve the effectiveness of your free-throw shooters in game situations.

The Study
Three elite women's basketball teams at the Canadian university level were studied. Team A received quiet eye training, The other two teams, selected based on their top-four finish in the national championships, received no additional training. They acted as control groups.

The training consisted of using the three-step quiet eye routine (see below) throughout two seasons of regular practice sessions.

In the first year, the experimental team improved their free throw shooting by 12% in practice, but experienced no improvement during games. However, by the end of the second year of this training, a huge improvement of 22.6% had occurred, with their free-throw percentage had rising from 54% to 76.6%. In contrast, the first control group team experienced a decline of 1.5% over that period, while the second team improved by 12.6%.

One other change that occurred, is that the shooting technique of those who had taken quiet eye training changed, with the actual movement becoming measurably quicker and more fluid.

Quiet Eye Routine
The following routine was used to teach the quiet eye technique:

1. Take your stance, focus on hoop, bounce the ball three times while slowly repeating the phrase "nothing but net."

2. While holding the ball in the shooting stance, focus the eyes on a single spot on the hoop for about 1.5 seconds and say the words "sight, focus" to yourself. Focus only on this spot prior to the beginning of the shooting movement. Any of three locations on the basket can be the focus: the front, middle or back of the rim.

3. Shoot quickly using a smooth, rapid motion. There is no need to continue the eye focus as the shooting motion takes place.

Why is this technique effective? In focusing the gaze before the shot, shooters are able to imprint their neural aiming pathways without other distractions. Then there is less to control during the shot itself and distracting visual stimuli can be ignored during the shooting movement.

Focusing during the shot is less effective because there is so much going on during the shot that complete focus is difficult. For example, the shooters' arm will interrupt the eyes' focus, and the shooter must control the head, the eyes and the hands and ball all at the same time.

It was also found that using the quiet eye routine produced a system of timing of foul shots that was very similar to that used in actual games. Fewer foul shots were taken in practice than in the control groups, but the timing of shots more closely simulated those taken in competition.

Other Uses
While it hasn't been studied, this concept may also be useful when taking shots from the field. For example, an emphasis on eye focus before the shot may also improve accuracy when taking jump shots.


1. Shawnee Harle & Joan Vickers (U. of Calgary), "Training Quiet Eye Improves Accuracy in the Basketball Free Throw." The Sport Psychologist,, 15, 289-305 2001.

2. Dave Hopla, Basketball Shooting, Human Kinetics, 2012.


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