“Keep your eye on the ball,” is a phrase many of us heard when we were playing a sport as kids. For most of us, we were just good enough to play a pick-up game with friends or to play on a school team or community league. What about those who are good enough to either play college sports, compete in the Olympics or play sports professionally. How can their eyes keep them at the top of their game?
That’s where sports vision comes in. Yes, it is a real thing. According to the International Sports Vision Association (ISVA) sports vision is the “…science of helping athletes reach peak levels of performance through the enhancement of visual skills.”
Isn’t having 20/20 vision enough? You might be saying now. No, because 20/20 measures static visual acuity, which is how you see when sitting still. When you are playing a sport either you or the ball or both are moving. So, when playing a sport, your eyes need to process a lot of visual information in a short period of time. That is known as dynamic visual acuity and sports vision aims to improve an athlete’s dynamic visual acuity. Sports vision tests and training help athletes figure out how well their eyes perform, which helps to improve performance.
Athletes that benefit from sports vision therapy include those that participate in:
Golf—Read a putt, align your body, see the target and visualize the shot
Football—Track the ball, see and anticipate where teammates or members of the other team are located
Archery—Visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, depth perception and hand eye coordination
Optometrists who specialize in sports vision train athletes to improve their visual function. One optometrist, Jennifer Stewart, OD is the owner of Performance 20/20 in Stamford Connecticut, a sports vision training center and an expert in sports vision. Stewart was a NCAA Division 1 track and field athlete and she wanted to combine her love of sports with optometry.
Some of her clients are hockey and lacrosse players with 20/25 vision. For most people, that is an acceptable level of vision. For elite athletes, 20/25 won’t cut it for them. “My job is not only to help these athletes be better performers, but also to make sure that they’re as safe as possible when they walk out on that field,” said Dr. Stewart.
Stewart and her team help athletes to get a competitive advantage by working to improve both the visual system and cognitive skills. Her center uses both standard vision therapy and the latest technology, such as the Senaptec Sensory Station, which assesses visual and sensorimotor skills. Other therapies available at her center include working on hand-eye coordination, tracking, focus, visual reaction time, depth perception and peripheral vision. In addition to therapy, treatment plans include the use of contact lens, sports safety glasses and special exercises that maximize strengths and minimizes weaknesses. As a result, many clients report improved athletic performance and for the athletes in high school and college, some report improvement in both their athletic performance and their studies.
Thanks to sports therapy, elite athletes not only keep their eye on the ball but they can anticipate where the ball will go and react accordingly.