Visual Skills for Football Players
As in other team sports, football requires players to play distinct positions. Players in each position have different responsibilities and line up in different areas of the field. The visual demands may very well vary between playing offense and defense as well as depending on what position you play (i.e., quarterback, wide receiver, lineman). A Sports Vision & Performance Professional can help you to better understand and meet the visual demands most often experienced while playing football.
Following are some of the most important dynamic skills associated with several positions.
Quarterbacks | Receivers | Running Backs | Defensive Backs and Safeties | Linebackers | Kickers
Exact anticipation timing can help a quarterback move out of the pocket just at the right time to avoid being sacked. It is also vital for releasing the ball on time to receivers and for completing a perfect hand-off to a running back.
The quarterback has the most extensive and difficult reads to make, as the success of each play originates on his accurate read of the defensive scheme. Any lapse in concentration will result in a botched play, or worse, a fumble or interception. He must also be able to concentrate downfield on his receivers through the stress and distraction of the oncoming rush.
Depth perception is a critical skill for a QB in that he must be able to accurately judge the distance and speed of the receiver and throw the ball to the correct point. A short coming in this area will result in incompletions or interceptions.
One of the most difficult dynamic visual skills is tracking an object that is moving away from an athlete. This is illustrated by the ability to accurately judge and complete a long pass. Quarterbacks that continuously struggle with this type of pass could have a deficiency in this skill.
The ability to interpret visual input and then to successfully coordinate hand, foot and associated body movements is an important part of most sports because it affects both timing and body control. A QB must be able to throw the ball where it should go, particularly while he is scrambling or off balance.
A quarterback must be able to be aware of the rush surrounding him while concentrating on his downfield receivers. The quarterbacks who seem to step up in the pocket at the last instant to avoid a charging rusher possess this skill.
Speed and Span of Recognition
The more instantaneously he is able to process the visual information which surrounds him, the more time the QB will have to choose the correct reaction, and complete the play.
"When you play quarterback, you have to process information quickly, get the ball out of your hand to the right guy."
- Nick Saban
Accommodation & Convergence
Receivers must be able to track and constantly refocus on the ball as it approaches, so it doesn't become a blur.
Catching a pass requires extreme concentration, especially when trying to focus on the ball through a maze of outstretched arms of defenders.
Receivers must calculate exactly how far and fast the thrown ball is traveling so that they can adjust their own speed and location to be in the exact spot to catch the ball.
Football is a very fatiguing sport which requires excellent conditioning. Physical fatigue can greatly affect concentration, visual reaction time, and eye-hand coordination. Eye fatigue can also affect performance levels in much the same way. When the muscles in our eyes feel tired or strained, we feel the fatigue all over. Just like a weightlifting routine is used to increase physical endurance, visual exercises can be used to strengthen the eye muscles and thereby reduce fatigue.
A receiver must possess this skill as he extends to make the catch. He must be sure of the location of nearby opponents as well as the sideline. This will help to avoid injuries or allow him to make a quick move to spring into the open after making the catch.
As the running back handles the ball quite often in the game and can also be pass receiver, he must possess those visual skills which are required by the receivers such as Accommodation & Convergence, Concentration and Eye-Hand Coordination.
Peripheral Awareness is also an important skill for the back as he must often be able to pick up blitzing linemen who have beaten their block. This skill is also required by the back while running the ball as he must be able to focus on where he is going and be able to see and recognize the action in his periphery. Speed & Span of Recognition is critically important to the ball carrier, as the more visual information he can take in, and the faster he can turn this into a physical reaction, the more effective his running will be.
Defensive Backs and Safeties
Accommodation & Convergence
As in the case of receivers, defensive backs and safeties must be able to track and constantly refocus on the ball as it approaches and not let it become a blur.
The visual system provides an individual with the information needed in order to act, as well as the information needed to judge when to act. Defensive backs and safeties need to be able to effectively judge the cutoff point of the on-coming ball or ball carrier.
Defensive players need to concentrate on the ball when it is in the air and make the interception. It usually requires a great athletic effort to arrive in position to make the 'pick' and it is often accomplished through the distraction of waving arms and moving bodies.
This skill applies to catching (intercepting) the football as with receivers.
Defensive players must be able to effectively focus on the central object (the ball when it is in the air, the man in man-to-man coverage, the quarterback in zone coverage) and still be confident of the action happening around that object.
Lapses in this skill are extremely hazardous in this position as it is a high traffic area. It is also important to be able to concentrate on the 'keys' required to read each play with the many distractions associated with a high traffic area.
Peripheral Vision and Awareness
A linebacker must be able to focus on his 'keys' while being aware of opponents in his area. One of the main concerns of the linebacker is the 'crack back' block. Early awareness and reaction to this potentially hazardous situation can greatly enhance his effectiveness and help to avoid injury.
Speed & Span of Recognition
Line backing is a fast action/reaction position. The ability to take in visual infomation and instantaneously translate it into a physical reaction is vital to superior play.
Line backing is a unique position in that the player must combine the skills of both the line and the defensive backs.
Kickers, like other players, need to be able to block out the distractions of the field and the crowd.
The visual system provides an individual with the information needed in order to act, as well as the information needed to judge when to act. Kickers need to be able to effectively anticipate the timing of the snap, the approach to the football, and ultimately the trajectory of the foot meeting the football.
Accommodation & Convergence
Eye tracking ability is important in kicking. Quick, accurate eye movements are needed to rapidly survey the goal post position, players, and the football on the pitch of the tee or where placed for a field goal attempt. Studies have shown that if the kicker’s head has to move to aid in eye tracking, foot to goal post, his performance is not only less efficient, but balance is thrown off too.
Timing, anticipation of the snap and the teeing up and the ultimate kicking action, are skills related to good depth perception. No one stays in the same place very long. The ball and the players are all in constant, relative motion. The goals are stationary, but most shots are taken at the goal as the kicker is in motion.
Most kickers depend more on eye-foot and eye-body coordination. The eyes lead the body follows, so the visual system guides the motor system. For the players, exact eye-foot coordination is essential to hit the “Uprights” and to ensure that the ball goes through for a field goal.
©2019, Dynamic Visual Skills for Sports, International Sports Vision Association and DeAnn Fitzgerald, OD.