Authors: Dr. Alex and Patti Andrich
Vision Development Team
Has your coach ever told you to ‘keep your eye on the ball’?
Winning coaches are experts at breaking down sport skills, analyzing plays, and providing specific feedback to improve performance.
However, when it comes to vision, the advice often gets generalized to comments like “keep your eye on the ball”, or “focus” on a target.
Coaches have the right idea. They want their athletes to be attentive and aware.
Is vision important for sports?
Most coaches understand that vision plays a fundamental role in overall performance.
However, vision is quite complex, and training the visual system requires an extensive understanding of the eyes, brain, and body. The complexity of vision may be one reason that vision training is often overlooked as a potential area of gaining the winning advantage.
Eye doctors can be vision coaches
Fortunately, eye doctors who train vision skills are in a unique position to help athletes achieve their championship goals. In recent years, some eye doctors have undertaken extensive training in sports vision and have become sought after experts for athletes and teams that are looking for the winning edge.
These eye doctors have gained experience in improving athletic performance, and have now found their place among the coaching staff as the team’s “vision coach”. With specific optometric tools, these knowledgeable vision coach doctors can identify hidden visual weaknesses that may be hindering athletic performance. They also provide specialized training programs and use high-tech equipment to improve critical sport-specific vision skills.
Vision skills for athletes
Vision coaches work with athletes to identify which vision skills are most important for their particular sport.
The vision coach then provides specific vision exercises aimed to improve those dominating visual skills.
Some common vision skills for athletes include:
- Visual tracking
- Peripheral awareness
- Contrast sensitivity
- Reaction time
- Depth perception
How these skills are used, vary from sport to sport and from athlete to athlete.
When it comes to sports that involve fast-moving objects, sometimes an object will move faster than the human eye can track, and an instruction to “keep your eye on the ball”, isn’t really possible.
Even when the athlete tries to lock their vision on a target, their eye movements may lack precision. Inaccuracies in eye movements can lead to miscalculations in the timing or spatial localization.
Vision therapy for sports
Visual errors can cost the athlete the championship, or worse yet, lead to an injury.
This highlights the importance of training the supporting visual skills. Since athletes must make split-second decisions based on the information their eyes provide, their visual system needs to be well-tuned.
When athletes have access to precise visual data, then their reactions can become more precise.
Training vision for improved sports performance is currently being tested by researchers. A new randomized, placebo-controlled study conducted by Duke University¹, provided evidence that training visual skills leads to a positive outcome. Their research with collegiate baseball players showed that vision training has a significant impact on improving batting performance.
In the future, we may have more coaches requesting that their athletes connect to eye doctor vision coaches. This is a win-win for athletes and optometry.
¹Appelbaum, G, et al. “Dynamic Vision Training Transfers Positively to Batting Performance Among Collegiate Baseball Batters.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise, vol. 51, 2020, doi:10.1101/2020.02.12.945824.