How to focus on your goals. literally. with your eyes.
Summary: Making full use of your eyes can dramatically improve the aim and consistency of your drives, your putts, and all throws in between. Read on to learn Why, Where (as in, where your eyes should be in any given situation), and How (as in, how to make any necessary changes).
Merriam-Webster defines the term eye-hand coordination as “The way that one’s hands and sight work together to be able to do things that require speed and accuracy (such as catching or hitting a ball).” Or tossing a disc at a target.
After watching my recorded analysis of his driving form, a remote client in New York replied that the issue with keeping his eyes glued to the ground throughout his drive was a habit borrowed from his days playing ball golf. In that sport keeping the head down makes sense. The spot on the ball where the club will ideally make contact is where the eyes need to be in order to do their job.
In disc golf, however, looking down makes no sense at all. Nor does directing your eyes anywhere other than the aiming target. Trying to watch the disc throughout the reach-back or trying to observe some other part of their form are both also popular practices among clients when they first come to me. In all of these cases, the eyes are not being used as they should.
It’s pretty simple, actually: Eyes locked onto a target are sending the brain information that is useful for aiming; eyes looking anywhere else are not. “Wandering eyes” contribute nothing to successful execution. Eyes focused on the wrong thing send information that conflicts with the brain’s understood objective and are often the sole reason for errant shots.
The website Cognifit.com further defines eye-hand coordination as the eyes perceiving information (visual-spatial perception) that the brain then uses to guide the hands to carry out a movement. We use our eyes to direct attention to a stimulus and help the brain understand where the body is located in space (self-perception). The broader term motor coordination refers to the “orchestrated movement of multiple body parts as required to accomplish intended actions, like walking.”
Or launching a disc golf disc at a target 400 feet away. Multiple body parts, including the eyes, must coordinate to perform even routine disc throws.
To fully grasp the significance of where our eyes are pointed during every millisecond of a disc golf throw, it helps to think of the human brain as a very powerful computer and our various body parts as software and hardware. I provide a couple of comparisons below specific to driving and putting, but the principle is the same:
Your eyes collect information required for proper aim and balance. Prolonged focus on the right thing maximizes their contribution on any given throw.
those driving eyes
For the neural phenomenon of motor coordination to work best, the eyes need to be focused where they can gather the info most useful to perform the task at hand. When driving this will usually be the basket, but not always- especially on holes with doglegs, elevation changes, or any blind shot that prevents even seeing the basket. Pick something specific, though. This amazing piece of human technology works best when you feed it specific spatial coordinates.
I find it helps to think of eye-body coordination while launching drives in disc golf as if I’m a jet pilot firing guided missiles at another jet- at least as depicted in movies. I first”acquire” the target in my sights, meaning I start by locking my gaze on my aiming point- forward, level with the horizon. As I start my footwork, I remember to “lock on” to the target using the motor coordination connection between my eyes and other body parts. The better I can maintain that connection, the better my aim will be.
At this point, I trust the technology and”fire,” doing my best to keep the target in my sights as continuously as possible throughout the throw. On a full-power throw it is usually necessary to momentarily pull the eyes away from the acquired target. That’s okay, if the extra distance you’ll get justifies the broken eye-body connection. Just remember that having your eyes focused on the target 85 percent of the time is way better than 15 percent of the time, and still much better than 50 percent of the time.
I grabbed the below images from a video of Paul McBeth posted a year ago by Tom Manuel. I agree with Bro Heme who in the video’s comment section said that McBeth is the “best combo of power and accuracy in the game.” He (Paul, not Bro) knows exactly when and how to sacrifice a little aim to get the needed power.
Image 1 shows McBeth already locked onto his target. That’s the default, and his eyes won’t leave until Image 4, when turning his hips and shoulders away from the target makes it impossible for them to maintain contact. Note that even then, though, his chin touches his throwing shoulder rather than pointing back in the same direction as his shoulders. If you could see his eyes, you’d see they are rolled to the right in their sockets, straining to re-establish the eye-body neural connection as soon as possible.
By Image 5 – before the disc has left his hand – McBeth’s head is back in position for his eyes to gather and transmit fresh data critical to shot execution. In Images 6 and 7 we see him making an effort to keep his eyes locked onto the target through the release of the disc. This ensures that the contribution of the eyes is maximized and has the additional benefit of helping prevent him from pulling the disc off his line due to imbalance.
Standing at the front of the teepad and focusing your eyes hard on the target before beginning your throw won’t accomplish the same thing— even if you extend the disc dramatically while staring. If you do that, then stare at the ground next to you throughout your throw, or let your eyes passively drift wherever the alignment of your shoulders takes them, the target is no longer acquired, much less locked on.
If you are learning or re-learning the footwork that most like to pair with a full-effort backhand drive, first of all, ask yourself whether that’s a good idea at this point. Assuming the answer is yes (and even if it’s not, yet), you have a couple of much better options than trying to watch your feet or the disc to confirm whether you’re doing things correctly.
- You can film yourself and then self-analyze and/or get help from a pro. If you must use your eyes to learn, this is the way to do it. Your eyes already have an important job to do during the throw, and unless you are a chameleon or a four-eyed fish, your eyes can’t multitask.
- Learn by feel. Pay attention in detail to what it feels like to keep your eyes straining and neck craning toward the target as you twist your torso away. Learn to stay center-balanced through any footwork, then check the video to see how you did. How does it feel when you do it right? Simply focusing on the feeling of success and failure during and after your throw will help you refine and repeat.
Note: As you see in Figure 5 above, a full-turn drive requires momentarily breaking eye contact with the target. When this is the case, it is important that you don’t wait until your eyes reacquire the target to begin your throw as that would waste the large muscle power of your reach-back and screw up your timing. Instead, learn to treat that fraction of a second when your eyes are forced to come off the target as a blip of static, with the picture returned before you know it. During that blip, the “feeling” you’ve learned will bridge the gap.
the putting trance
Everything I’ve written so far about using the eyes to “throw” a flying disc applies to putting as well. In fact, it’s all magnified! The margin of error on putts is thinner and sharper, and that makes a difference in two ways.
- Putting requires exacting precision. Miss by a few inches and you miss the putt
- Putting is an unambiguous pass/fail proposition that invites extra mental baggage
Be The Tripod
If the challenge of keeping eyes on the target while driving is like locking onto a 500-mph target while traveling 500 mph yourself, proper eye discipline while putting is like photography with a tripod. The goal is to focus on the exact best place for you to aim (a link of chain, the orange tape) and retain that perfect visual connection through the release of the disc.
Physically this is easier than the eye discipline required when driving. There is way less movement going on (jet vs. tripod), and at no point are you forced to rotate your neck away from the target.
With putting it’s often the mental part that is more challenging, because of the pass/fail thing. It’s easier to get ensnared in anxious thoughts about the results of the putt when there is no gray area. Letting the eyes drift away from the target to the disc is common in this case, sometimes before the disc even leaves the hand.
Breaking visual contact with the target even a fraction of a second too soon can cause a bad miss. To prevent this, lock your eyes onto your aiming point and try to keep them there until the disc reaches the target. As much as possible, keep your head still as well. Think of a picture taken right as the camera gets jolted. Blurry, out of focus. It’s why tripods exist.
The next time you practice your putting (today, right?), focus on your “eye-work.” Are you aiming at something small and specific? When I am in a period of poor mental focus I will sometimes realize I’m aiming at the target in general. Be intentional about your aiming point, on every putt.
Do your eyes stay locked on that aiming point, or do they “unlock” as the disc leaves your hand so you can track the progress of your attempt? I struggle with this in particular, and I’m not sure whether it is due to being emotionally attached to the results or my ADHD. Maybe my eyes get drawn to the movement.
Whatever the reason, I know it’s something that requires constant monitoring, and I know it’ll be worth the effort. Science tells me that keeping my eyes focused on the right thing improves motor coordination. My own empirical evidence backs it up.
The takeaway here could not be simpler. Watch where you’re throwing!