Do you wish you could cut a few strokes off your golf score? Does your child always seem to be just a few steps away from the soccer ball? Having trouble returning your tennis partner’s serve? Vision, just like speed and strength, is an important component in how well you play your sport.
And there is much more to vision than just seeing clearly. Your vision is composed of many interrelated skills that can affect how well you play your sport. However, just as exercise and practice can increase your speed and strength, it can also improve your visual fitness and accuracy.
Because all sports have different visual demands, an optometrist with expertise in sports vision can assess your unique visual system and recommend the proper eyeglasses or contact lenses, or design a vision therapy program to maximize your visual skills for your specific sport. Remember, a thorough eye examination by your doctor of optometry is a great place to begin “getting the winning edge.”
Eye protection should also be a major concern to all athletes, especially in certain high-risk sports. Thousands of children and adults suffer sports-related eye injuries each year, and nearly all can be prevented by using the proper protective eyewear. Prescription goggles can be a great alternative to replacing regular eyewear after they are broken and provide much better protection from injury. Especially for sports played outdoors, appropriate sunglasses are a must, and some sport-specific designs may even help you improve your game. Ask your optometrist which type is best suited for your favorite sport.
Important Vision Skills for Sports
Dynamic Visual Acuity
If you are playing a sport like racquetball, tennis, soccer or hockey, it is important that you be able to clearly see objects while you and/or the objects are moving fast. Without good dynamic visual acuity, you are going to have a difficult time in sports like these.
When you commit an error on an easy ground ball or miss a short putt, it may be that you are distracted by things that are happening around you. Our eyes normally react to anything that happens in our field of vision… spectators, other participants or even the wind blowing leaves on an overhanging branch. Visual Concentration is the ability to screen out these distractions and stay focused on the ball or the target.
When you are playing any sport with a ball or a fast moving opponent, it is important that you be able to follow objects without much head motion. Eye tracking helps you maintain better balance and react to the situation more quickly.
Eye-Hand-Body Coordination is how your hands, feet and body and other muscles respond to the information gathered through your eyes. It is an important part of most sports because it affects both timing and body control.
When you are pushing a fast break up the basketball court, leading a rush up the ice in hockey, or catching the big wave amid a crowd of surfers, you need to process and remember a fast moving, complex picture of people and things. This is called visual memory. The athlete with good visual memory always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Picture yourself hitting a perfect drive…long and right down the middle of the fairway. Believe it or not, picturing yourself doing it can actually help you do it. Visualization is the skill that enables you to see yourself performing well in your “mind’s eye” while your eyes are seeing and concentrating on something else, usually the ball. Using scanning techniques, researchers have found that the same areas of the brain that light up during performance also do so when you visualize the performance.
When a soccer player sees a teammate out of the corner of his or her eye, the player is using his peripheral vision. Because much of what happens in sports does not happen directly in front of you, it’s important to increase your ability to see action to the side without having to turn your head.
Visual Reaction Time
The pitcher releases the ball and you swing…a little late and you hit a weak foul down the line…or worse you miss the ball completely. Or, maybe you just can’t quite return that tennis serve. You need to improve your visual reaction time, or the speed with which your brain interprets and reacts to your opponent’s action.
In racket sports, depth perception enables you to quickly and accurately judge the distance between yourself, the ball, your opponents, teammates, boundary lines and other objects. When you are shooting or hunting, if you consistently over or underestimate the distance to your target, poor depth perception may be at fault.