Vision is by far the most dominant sense used in sports! To get an idea of just how important vision is to your athletic performance, imagine yourself playing your favorite sport while wearing a blindfold. Pretty tough, right?
Most people don’t realize that vision is a learned ability that is made up of 17 different visual skills.
What are visual skills?
Humans have 17 different visual skills that allow us to see. These skills include the ability to see color, the ability to see fine detail, the ability to see in 3D, the ability to use your eyes as a team, and much more.
These skills begin to develop as soon as you’re born and can improve throughout life. Just like how athletic performance depends on how good you are at a combined set of athletic skills (i.e. speed, endurance, strength, and experience), your visual performance depends on how well developed your visual skills are.
What is sports vision training?
The good news is, visual performance can be improved with training! This is known as sports vision training or sports vision therapy. It’s made up of non-invasive exercises that are prescribed by a sports vision optometrist after completing a thorough evaluation to test your visual skills.
“There is definitely a connection between the vision therapy that I did as a child and my performance on the field. A number of the drills in football camp reminded me of things I did in in vision therapy that helped develop reaction time, eye-hand coordination and visualization skills.” – Larry Fitzgerald
Here are the top 5 visual skills for sports (and how to improve them)
1) Visual acuity
This visual skill gives you the ability to see fine detail. For example, for the average person, good visual acuity is 20/20. However, for professional athletes, the average visual acuity is 20/10. This means that some professional athletes can stand twice as far from the eye chart as an average person and read the same letters.
Luck for you, improving your visual acuity is easy. Simply make an appointment with an eye doctor to see if you need glasses or contact lenses! Just keep in mind that not everyone is born with the ability to see better than 20/20.
2) Dynamic visual acuity
This visual skill provides you with the ability to see fine detail when following a moving object. It’s important because many sports involve following fast moving objects, such as a ball or a puck. Fortunately for you, dynamic visual acuity can be improved with sports vision training.
3) Depth perception
This visual skill gives you the ability to judge the distance between yourself and an object. It’s a very important skill in sports because it helps you position yourself in the right place to make a play. Ultimately, a combination of corrective lenses and sports vision training can help improve your depth perception.
4) Contrast sensitivity
This visual skill provides you with the ability to see details in low contrast conditions (i.e. conditions with fog, glare, or low light). Most outdoor athletes are regularly exposed to these conditions during games.
Thankfully, your contrast sensitivity can be improved with tinted glasses or contact lenses. In fact, different tints work well in different environments and there are a lot of colors to choose from.
5) Eye, hand, body, & foot coordination
This is your ability to combine what you see with the movement of your body. This skill is responsible for how quickly you can react to things during a game (i.e. it determines your reaction time). Fortunately, visual coordination can be improved with sports vision training.
Once you have good vision, how do you keep it that way?
1) Make sure to use protective eyewear
All of the visual skills we have talked about so far depend on having healthy eyes. As a result, having an eye injury can negatively impact many of your visual skills.
According to Prevent Blindness America, hospital emergency rooms treat more than 25,000 sports-related eye injuries every year. Using protective eyewear, such as sports glasses (clear or sunglasses) with impact-resistant lenses, can help protect your eyes from injury.
2) Commit to a sports vision training routine
Vision training is similar to other types of training that you do as an athlete. If you want to maintain your gains and continue to improve, you have to continue to train. Just like any other type of training, you get out what you put in. Therefore, more effort equals better results.
In summary, I hope this article reinforced the role vision plays in sports! If you’re looking to take your visual skills to an elite level, schedule an appointment with a local sports vision optometrist today!