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Archive for August, 2011

Where’s Waldo? No, really, where is he?

I wonder what ever happened to him?

Remember the days when it seemed everyone on earth was looking for just one guy wearing a red and white striped shirt and a snow hat? I myself recall afternoons spent in bookstores visually foraging through crowds of characters on each page for a guy I never even met before named Waldo. This guy really led an adventurous life. One day he is in the arctic, the next at a carnival, at the zoo, at the mall, he really was a people person who craved the social life yet somehow remained elusive and hidden off in a corner somewhere. He knew just where to go, he knew where the action was, he was good at blending in with the masses but where is he now? He has seemed to vanish like ‘Magic Eye’ postcards, and lately I have had the urge to find him. I want to tell him his glasses finally came back in style!

All kidding aside, it turns out Waldo is definitely still around. He’s on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Bebo, he even went through the whole MySpace phase as so many of us did. His British creator Martin Handford first introduced us to Waldo in 1987 and asked us to follow him on his “world-wide hike.” “Waldo-mania” soared into pop culture in the 90’s and today, if you still want to keep an eye on this “distinctly dressed” Waldo chap, there IS an app for that. And a Wii, Nintendo DS and computer game coming September 22nd. Heck, there is even a Waldo flash mob!

Sorry for thinking you disappeared old buddy, turns out were always around, I just stopped looking. Good to have you back, Waldo, can’t wait to sharpen my visual detection skills once again and see your adventures in Hollywood. Send us a postcard, maybe even a “Magic Eye” one. Hee hee.

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Sports Vision entails more than just 'clear vision.'

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Sure, but you also miss 100% of the shots you don’t see.

I don’t think anyone would question the importance of comfortable, clear vision while playing sports. And we have all heard having proper hand-eye coordination is important too but Sports Vision is much more than that. Visual awareness, visual experience and good binocularity are key cornerstones needed when trying to achieve your peak performance level. You could spend hours at the gym training, building body muscle and working on your swing but if you possess poor visual sensory skills then you are at a tremendous disadvantage. So, whether you are an athlete or if you just play sports for fun on the weekends, there are steps you can take to ensure your vision is up to par and will help, not hurt, your game.

Steps to maximizing your vision and game play:

  • Use vision correction: See perfect 20/20 near and far, with both eyes and with each eye individually (if one eye is not seeing as clear as the other eye your 3D vision or depth perception might suffer). Correct for any refractive error you might have through the use of prescription eyeglasses, rec specs, contacts, or LASIK. Your eye doctor will help you to determine which mode of vision correction will best match your needs and environment. Have your optometrist also test your binocularity, eye teaming, focusing and aiming skills and follow any recommendations they might give. Sometimes further testing may be required to ensure your visual system is working as efficiently and effortlessly as it should be. If there is a problem found with your binocularity, your doctor may suggest vision therapy as a treatment.
  • Guard your eyes: Use impact-resistant eye protection. There are around 40,000 sports related eye injuries each year in the US, 90% of which are considered preventable. “Basketball and baseball cause the most eye injuries, followed by water sports and racquet sports.” (source 1Prevent sports-related injuries to the eyes, particularly in high-risk sports, by wearing the right eye protection. Sports goggles such as Rec-Specs, when made with polycarbonate lenses (the most shatter-resistant lens material available), are among the most popular modes of protection.
  • Sports Vision Therapy: Seek a sports vision therapist evaluation or sensory testing. Areas tested will be skills such as eye tracking, visual concentration, eye-hand-body concentration and control, visual memory, visual reaction time, peripheral vision, depth perception, dynamic visual acuity and visualization. The American Optometric Association provides a simple and easy explanation for each of this areas here. Optometrists specializing in sports vision can make a customized treatment plan for you to help you excel in the visual and sensory areas you test weak in. There are also coaches who have used principles of sensory testing to host their own programs and clinics like Chris McKnight’s baseball vision program and Nike’s SPARQ program (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction, Quickness).
  • Minimize Glare: Fighting the effects of glare is a hot topic lately in outdoor sports, even the NY Times recently reported on how baseball players with lighter eyes have a heightened sensitivity to glare.
  • Protect eyes from UV: If you play outdoors, protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful UVA/UVB rays  with the proper, high quality sunglasses recommended by your eye doctor, ‘wraparound’ frames are a popular choice since they block light coming in not only from the front but from the sides as well. Some contact lenses even come with UV protection built right in. Damage to the eyes from UV light exposure over time has been known to accelerate the development of cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Protect eyes from eye diseases: Checking the health of your eyes is crucial. Close your eyes for a moment, would you be able to play your favorite sport without your vision? Do not let preventable eye diseases rob you of your sight, take a proactive approach in keeping your eyes healthy by having them checked by an eye doctor once a year.

All of these tips are important but Sports Vision Therapy and sensory training can take your game to the next level. Chris McKnight, associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies and creator of the baseball vision program shares with us one of his sensory exercises used to help sharpen players’ visual sensory skills.

Super Vision Ring

“The Super vision ring is a training tool that is a circular plastic tube with 4 colored wiffle balls. Two partners face each other, one holds the Vision Ring while the partner ready to receive stands about 7 feet away. The partner holding the Vision ring will show the receiver one colored ball (out of four) and tell him/her the color (this provides audio and visual stimulation). As the partner holding the ring prepares to toss the ring, the receiver will begin to focus on the movement and the release point of the ring. The ring should make three rotations in the air, while the receiver tracks the color of the ball the tosser called out. We want the receiver to try to catch the ball, with the specific color that the tosser called out, and with their two hands out in front of the body. As the ball approaches, the receiver is using our EBH method- (otherwise know Eye Brain Hand)- as the Eye sends a signal to the brain, the Brain then sends a signal to the hands and the Hands perform the function, in this case catching the ball. 
This drill is used for speed of recognition, tracking, depth perception and eye hand coordination.”
-Chris McKnight
As you can see, if we take the seemingly simple action of catching a fly ball and break it down into steps, there are many mechanisms of that action that the eyes, brain and body have to perform and coordinate. For instance:
  • Visual Acuity: locate what player has the ball and see it clearly
  • Visual Concentration: concentrate on the ball and block out visual distractions (the crowd in the stadium for example)
  • Visual Reaction Time: read the player’s body language to know when he will hit the ball with the bat (the trigger to a cascade of events leading up to your visual reaction time)
  • Eye Tracking: follow the ball with your eyes as it flies through the sky
  • Depth Perception: use your 3D vision to see it getting closer to you
  • Dynamic Visual Acuity: focus it clear the entire time as it moves
  • Visual Memory: running up and navigating your way through the field to the ball to catch it
  • Peripheral Vision: making sure you will not collide with your teammates
  • Visualization: imagining yourself, in your mind’s eye, catching the ball
  • Eye-Hand-Body coordination (and end stage of visual reaction time): catching the ball
It would be impossible to remember or consciously perform each of these steps individually every time we catch a fly ball, so we can train our brain to remember this pathway for us. By exercising each of these sensory skills individually, we can optimize their wiring in the brain and then put it all together to enhance our performance when playing without even thinking about it.

If you have ever played golf, you have already probably practiced this method of breaking down an action into individual steps and then trying to perfect those steps when you work on your golf swing. In order to have a great swing at the ball, you must have “proper alignment, ball position, feet and hand position, posture, balance and more.” (source 2)

If you haven’t thought about other sports in that way, maybe now is the time. By enhancing each visual sensory step, your athletic performance as a whole can soar to new heights that you may have not even thought possible in the past. Seeing your eye doctor is the first step. Now let’s play ball!

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