When we think of vision, we normally think of 20/20, however for competitive athletics, every edge can make the difference. Vision plays a major role in sports, and sports vision training can help athletes excel by improving the visual skills used in their sport and position. Professional and amateur athletes have been using sports vision training to improve core visual skills that can make the difference between good and great performance.
Anyone who has seriously trained for a sport, and even many who only engage in sports on a causal basis, will understand the importance of good vision.
Whether you need to catch a ball, hit a ball, or time a jump, the ability to correctly--and quickly--judge distances is vital.
The specific vision skills required in different sports varies, of course. A skier, a baseball player, and a gymnast all rely on different key skills in order to excel at their chosen activity.
However, there is enough overlap between various sports to enable us to list a number of vision skills that will be relevant to athletes.
This is how your hands, feet, and other parts of the body respond to the information gathered through your eyes. Eye-hand-body coordination, often referred to as simply hand-eye coordination, is an essential skill in many sports, especially those where precise timing and control are required to perform at high levels. One example of the importance of this skill can be seen in baseball, where batters are required to hit pitches thrown at speeds as fast as 100mph, leaving them mere moments to decide whether to swing or not.
Eye tracking is an essential skill in any sport involving a ball or fast moving opponents, enabling athletes to track a moving target with minimal head motion so they remain capable of taking necessary actions quickly. For example, in Tennis, the entire aim is to keep track of a small, fast-moving ball, so you can hit it back onto your opponent’s side of the field, making eye tracking a vital skill.
Peripheral vision is your ability to see objects on the edges of your visual field, “out of the corner of your eye.” This grants increased awareness of what is going on around you, especially vital if there are multiple moving objects to keep track of. For example, in fast moving team sports like soccer, it’s important to have good peripheral vision so that players can keep track of both their teammates and opponents as they move up and down the field. Another great example is a pitcher in baseball, who must use their peripheral vision to be able to see if someone is stealing bases.
Dynamic visual acuity is the skill which enables an athlete to clearly see and track moving objects while they are also in motion. This skill is especially important in sports like tennis, hockey, and cycling.
Visual reaction time is a skill related to hand-eye coordination, and describes the ability to rapidly interpret and take an action based on visual input. This is a skill vital to being able to hit a baseball or return a tennis serve. Pilots and tactical military and law enforcement also require superior visual reaction time.
Visual memory is a person’s ability to both remember and process fast moving, complex pictures of people and objects. In games with a lot of motion, and in which there are many players involved, this skill enables an athlete to know where teammates and opponents are positioned, and use that information to move up the field at speed while avoiding the opponents. This is a particularly useful skill in team sports like basketball, hockey, lacrosse, and soccer.
As its name implies, visual concentration is a person’s ability to remain focused on a specific target without becoming distracted by other things happening in their greater field of vision. In sports, this is the ability to stay locked onto the ball despite the movement of fans in the stands, shadows moving along the ground, and other players. In golf, for example, it is heightened visual concentration that allows a professional player to tune out everything except the ball so they can make the perfect shot.
Believe it or not, visualizing yourself doing something can actually help you do it. Visualization is a skill which lets you see yourself, in your mind’s eye, performing an action while your eyes are seeing something else in real time. This can be especially helpful for those engaging in sports like gymnastics, where they are attempting to perform acrobatic feats.
While the field of neuro-optometry and vision therapy is primarily thought of as something used to help people improve vision skills in which they are lacking, it can also be utilized in a more proactive sense. Athletes who may have 20/20 vision can receive huge benefits from training based on these medical disciplines, by improving their vision skills, they can achieve optimal performance in their chosen sport.