Vision and Sports Performance
Doctors estimate that up to 80 percent of perceptual input in sports comes from the eyes.1
In sports, vision has the potential to affect an athlete’s performance, including clarity of sight, motor performance (the ability to perform specific tasks), and information processing.2 Visual skills for all sports include visual acuity, eye tracking, eye-hand-body coordination, visual memory, peripheral vision and depth perception. Overall ability to process and respond to visual stimuli also strongly enhance an athlete’s eye-hand coordination.
For example, hitting a pitched baseball has been described by some as one of the most difficult tasks in any sport. In particular, batting is an activity that has rigorous demands for eye-hand coordination, requiring concentration and good visual acuity as well as depth perception.
The time it takes for a pitched ball to reach the plate is approximately 0.4 seconds. Baseball batters have about 0.17 seconds to decide to hit a pitch and choose where to swing. In that time the batter needs to spot the pitch, assess the rotation and direction of the ball, and make a decision whether to swing or not.3
Then, to squarely hit the ball, the batter has to process what he sees and decide how to swing. The quicker the batter can identify the type of pitch thrown, the more time he/she can prepare. If the batter swings 7 milliseconds too early or 7 milliseconds too late, it’s likely to be a foul ball.4
The benefits of clearer vision are also important in other sports such as:
- Golf – How you read a putt, how you align your body, how well you see the target and how you visualize your shot are all influenced by your vision.
- Football – Football players often have to react to changing game situations very quickly, such as tracking the ball, and quickly and accurately seeing and anticipating where their teammates and opponents are on the field. Good visual acuity and peripheral vision are critical to assure a competitive advantage.
- Archery – Visual acuity, contrast sensitivity (the ability to discern the difference in brightness of adjacent areas), stereopsis (the perception of depth), eye-hand coordination, eye-body coordination and visual response time may be the most important skills in archery.5
Enhancing Vision Skills for Peak Performance
The legendary football coach Blanton Collier is credited for developing the concept that “the eyes lead the body.” That is why vision care for athletes of all ages and skill levels should begin with the identification of visual factors that potentially contribute to peak performance.
Sports Vision, the science of helping athletes reach peak levels of performance through the enhancement of visual skills, is becoming more and more important in training individuals of many sports, Sports vision tests and training can help athletes determine how well their eyes perform, beyond a basic ability to see letters and objects clearly on a standard eye chart.
By discovering if any weaknesses lie in these areas, trainers may have an opportunity to help an athlete enhance not only these visual skills, but also the resulting performance in their sport. Athletes that use their visual system to its maximum potential will gain optimal performance and a competitive edge.
Optometrists with expertise in sports vision assessment and training, along with other professionals such as ophthalmologists, athletic trainers, and coaches can work together to train athletes and improve visual function, leading to improved performance.
- Arie B, Sports Vision: How enhancing your vision can give you that extra edge in competition. Peak Performance. 2—2; 188:6-8
- Erickson G. Sports Vision: Vision Care for the Enhancement of Sports performance. St. Louis, MO. Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2007
- Clark J, Ellis J, Bench J, Khoury, Graman P, High-Performance Vision Training Improves Batting Statistics for University of Cincinnati Baseball Players, PLoS One. 2012; 7(1): e29109.
- Wilbert M, (Blog – Baseball: The Physics of Hitting a Fastball) https://www.brainscape.com/blog/2015/06/baseball-physics-hitting-a-fastball/ Accessed, 8/24/18
- Strydom B, Ferreira The Rile of Vision and Visual Skills I Archery, S Afr Optom 2010 69(1) 21-28 http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.619.3190&rep=rep1&type=pdf