“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 1) Prevent 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.
- 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
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)