Every athlete, from weekend warriors to professionals, is looking for a competitive edge to enhance their performance. Vision, just like speed and strength, is a critical component in helping an athlete maximize his/her potential to play at a higher level.
Different sports require different visual skill sets. For example, dynamic sports such as baseball, basketball, and hockey have different visual demands than sports that may require focus on a stationary object such as archery and golf.
But, no matter what the sport, abilities in eye-hand coordination, dynamic visual acuity, tracking, focusing, visual reaction time, and peripheral vision are among skills needed to help you hit a baseball, catch a football, sink a putt, or hit the bullseye.
Our visual system provides us with critical information about “where” and “when.” Sports Vision training can increase your ability to process visual information faster and decide when and how to react. Listed below is a glossary of visual skills and examples of how they pertain to various sports. Proper training by an Optometrist or Ophthalmologist with expertise in sports/performance vision may help you improve and optimize your visual processing on and off the field.
If two similar athletes meet in competition and one has a better trained visual system, the athlete with enhanced visual system will perform better.
How the eye changes focus from distant to near images. Accommodative skills allow an athlete to keep objects in focus as well as quickly change focus during the game.
Angles of Gaze
Visual information coming in from non-traditional points of gaze (i.e., a volleyball player looking up to track the ball).
Predictive visual information about the “where” and “when” behavior of critical factors in sports (i.e., a batter tracking a baseball pitch).
Balance and Proprioception (Static/Dynamic)
Knowing where the body is in space and keeping the body balanced despite dynamic factors (i.e., a gymnast doing tumbling, an ice skater doing an axel).
The use of both sides of the body together to perform a task. This can mean using the two sides of the body for the same action (i.e., a barbell biceps curl ) or using alternating movements (i.e., karate, wrestling, gymnastics).
A visual efficiency skill that allows both eyes to work together in a precise and coordinated way. In many sports binocular vision is the most important visual cue for spatial orientation, as it enables athletes to extract precise information about the locations of objects in three-dimensional (3D) environments. (i.e., following path of a ball after it is thrown).
Central/Peripheral Visual Processing
The ability to process simultaneously central and peripheral information while filtering irrelevant stimuli and attending to relevant stimuli (i.e., throwing a no-look pass in basketball).
Ability to discern different colors (i.e., seeing flags in race car driving).
Ability to quickly identify and track objects against various backgrounds. Many sports have varying lighting levels. (i.e., ski racer on course with fog).
Ability to quickly and accurately judge the distance between yourself, the ball, your opponents, teammates, boundary lines and other objects (i.e., an outfielder judging the flight of a fly ball). If you consistently over- or underestimate the distance to your target, poor depth perception may be the reason.
Dynamic Visual Acuity
Ability to maintain visual clarity when the athlete and/or an object are in motion. (i.e., When playing racquetball, tennis, soccer or hockey, you need to be able to clearly see objects while you and/or the objects are moving fast).
Ability to interpret visual input and then to successfully coordinate hand, foot and associated body movements. It is an important part of most sports because it affects both timing and body control.
An athlete must be able to quickly and accurately locate landmarks and follow objects (i.e., a baseball pitch).
Ability to keep objects clear when they are in motion (i.e., a hockey or soccer goalie tracking the ball/puck).
Glare Recovery Speed
The ability to quickly adapt from various changes in lighting (i.e., moving into and out of a shaded portion of a football field).
Sometimes called “eye preference” is the tendency to prefer visual input from one eye to the other. Knowing which eye is your dominant eye can help you perform better in a variety of activities (i.e., target shooting, archery).
Utilizing the full extent of your visual field and being aware of your surroundings, movement of other athletes or objects around you, and changes on the court or field. (i.e., a soccer player seeing his/her teammate out of the corner of his/her eye).
Speed of Visual Processing
How quickly visual information needs to be processed (i.e., hockey, football and other sports where change is happening rapidly).
Speed and Span of Recognition
Speed of identification (i.e., In basketball, football — quickly recognizing which player is on your team/opponent’s team).
Timing and Rhythm
Ability to coordinate the body fluidly in response to space and time cues. (i.e.,X Games)
Eye convergence and divergence (i.e., converging the eyes as the tennis ball approaches the racquet).
Vision in Dim Illumination
Ability to see in dim illumination (i.e., beach volleyball match at dusk).
Ability to mentally see, manipulate, practice and perfect flawless details of skill execution (i.e., picturing yourself jump-serving in volleyball before you serve the ball; Serving the ball in tennis).
Affected by the ability to manage stress. Proper breath control and stress management are vital to maintaining good visual attention (i.e., being in the zone when everything “slows down”).
Recognizing the size of the playing field or space surrounding you. (i.e. knowing if a tennis or volleyball serve is in or out; Awareness of the mat during a gymnastics floor routine).
Ability to perceive a whole image when only parts of the image are seen. (i.e., A quarterback reading the defense does not have time to fixate on each defensive player and must quickly determine the overall defensive scheme).
Ability to screen out distractions and stay focused on the object or the target (i.e., when you commit an error on an easy ground ball or miss a short putt, you might be distracted by things that are happening around you)
Visual Directional Localization
Predictable vs unpredictable motion patterns (track and field vs putting)
Ability to judge finely detailed information and make valid visual judgements based on contrast sensitivity, color/shade identification, texture, shape, and size. (i.e., skeet shooting, reading a green in golf).
Visual Distance Calculation
Accommodative (eye focusing) demands based on the distance between the athlete and the visual target.
Visual Figure Ground
Ability to pick out details while filtering out irrelevant information and confusing backgrounds (i.e., catching a football with fans in the stadium as the background)
Ability to maintain fixation long enough to assess situation then act on it. (i.e., A golfer reading the green before he/she putts).
Ability to remember details (i.e., how did a motocross rider ride a certain course the last time he/she visited that track). He/she must be able to change that memory if the course changes or the weather conditions are different (i.e., rain). There must be long-term and short-term visual memory skills.
Visual Reaction Time and Response Timing
Refers to the amount of time it takes for environmental stimuli to travel from our vision system into our motor system to produce a physical reaction. (i.e., The pitcher releases the ball and you swing a little late and hit a weak foul down the line, or you miss the ball completely). Improving visual reaction time helps an athlete improve his/her response time, by training the brain to work more efficiently.
Visual Sequential Memory
Ability to remember the order of visual stimuli (i.e., remembering the turns on a bobsled course).
Visual Spatial Localization
Ability to act on changes in environment and know where you are relative to other objects (i.e., Race car driver being able to adapt to accident on race course while cars all around him/her).
Visual Spatial Relations
An athlete’s ability to perceive appropriate positioning of themselves in relation to other people or objects within their environment (i.e., lining up correctly in football)